Category Archives: Off the beach

Thailand_PhiPhi

Ko Phi Phi (Don), Thailand

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IN BRIEF :

Phi Phi is off the West Coast of Thailand, 40 km South East of Phuket. It has some very impressive karst rock formations and many beautiful beaches. Its natural beauty, plus its fame from appearing in a Hollywood movie, has turned it into a mass-market tourist destination.

Most tourists do their snorkelling on a round-the-island boat trip.

Opportunities for off-the-beach snorkelling are limited. The reef-edge is about 100 metres away from the beach and is under the path of a hundred speed-boat propellers. It is not safe to snorkel at the reef-edge.

That said, there are a few options:

-The East coast of Phi Phi Don has some decent coral and, because the area is fairly remote, there is less boat traffic there.
-At the Southern end of Haat Yao (Long Beach), (known as “Shark Point”) there is a reasonable chance of seeing black-tip reef sharks in the shallows. Scared about sharks? Read this.
-A big rock 150m off the beach at Shark Point attracts a lot of fishlife, and provides protection from boat traffic.

Phi Phi is quite far from the mainland, which makes for a good range of fish species. Even in the shallower (=safer) waters near the beach, you can see a decent range of fishes – certainly those from my Thailand Common reef-fish page.

The coral is mostly Porites species (lump/hump coral) plus the occasional spots of branching, bracket and star corals thrown-in.

The condition of the coral varies from place-to-place. In the shallow-waters of the roped-off swim-zones, corals are generally shabby. The popular stops on the daytrip-tours are often smashed-up by boat anchors. But the coral on the East coast drop-off is in decent condition.

I visited for a week in April (the end of the dry season). Underwater visibility was about 6m, which isn’t quite as “crystal clear” as the tour-brochures suggest, but is good-enough, and typical of the Andaman Sea.

Overall, Phi Phi is a reasonable place to do some snorkelling if you are already there for your beach/party vacation, but, given that the best coral is kinda dangerous to get to, I don’t think I would make a special trip there for the snorkelling.

Best-ish seascape:
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Typical seascape:
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All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions.

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IN NOT-SO-BRIEF:
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All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions.

Ko / Koh / เกาะ is “island”
Ao / Au / อ่าว is “bay”
Haat / Haad / หาด is “beach”
Laem/ Lam / แหลม is “cape/point/headland”
Hin / หิน is “rock”

A bay which also has a beach might be labelled as either Haat or Ao. Don’t get hung up on the difference – they are both the same place.

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General Orientation

Mu Ko Phi Phi (หมู่เกาะพีพี) is an archipelago of six islands. (Mu means “group”).
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The only island with accommodation for overnight stays is the biggest one, Ko Phi Phi Don (เกาะพีพีดอน).
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(image credit wikitravel).

As this website is all about off-the-beach snorkelling, this page only covers Ko Phi Phi Don. For everywhere else, access is by boat-trip only. There is (err, will be) another page here, which covers the other islands.

Phi Phi Don is often said to be in the shape of a weightlifter’s dumbbell – two rocky, hilly islands joined together by a low-level sandy isthmus. The Western island (Ko Nork, เกาะนอก, “Outside Island”) is uninhabited, with towering cliffs all over it. The Eastern island (Ko Nai, เกาะใน, “Inside Island”) is where you will find all the resorts, bars and beaches.

I have to confess, I’m not a fan of highly developed, tourist places.
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Maya Bay, Phi Phi Ley

Paying 2-3 times the market rate for everything; being kept awake ’til 3am by the noise of the teenagers jive-ing away at the lindy hop; then having to dodge all the puddles of puke in the morning is not my idea of a good time.

Previously, I have only seen Phi Phi from the relative safety of daytrips from Ko Lanta. But in April 2015, I decided it was time to give the place a fair-chance and stay for a week, to have a proper look around.

I stayed in (cheapo) Ton Sai Town, which was as dire and noisy as expected, but I did discover that around the rest of island is a wide network of walking tracks. Armed with a bottle of water, a sun hat and a mask & snorkel, there are plenty of more-isolated spots to discover.

Phi Phi Don is very hilly, so (unless you are shelling-out on a taxiboat), be ready for long hikes up and down steep hills to get anywhere. It is going to be hot – take some water and suncream.

There are several viewpoints dotted around the island – all worth visting if you have your walking legs on. They are marked as VP1, VP2, etc. on my map.

The tracks leading to the viewpoints are a good way to get from one end of the island to the other. Here’s a tip: You have to pay a small fee (30B) to get into (or through) the “”main” viewpoint (VP2), but there is a way of skirting this premium route if you don’t want to carry money on your snorkelling escapades. Details down the page (do a local search [Edit>Find (on this page)] for the “Walking Tracks” section).

There is a good general orientation on Phi Phi at wikitravel.

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Underwater Orientation

There is fringing reef around 60% of Phi Phi Don, but the best bit of the reef (the drop-off) is a looong way out from the beach – often 100m to 200m. This puts you slap-bang in the middle of the boat lanes, with daytrip speedboats and ferries from Krabi, Phuket, etc. all vying to be the first one to cut-off your head. Many beaches have roped-off swim-zones extending 30m off the beach, but these are built for sunbathers to wash-off their sun-cream, not for snorkellers to see some decent coral. The safe-zones don’t extend-out far enough to envelop any decent reef. You will need to hike to the quieter parts of the island to find decent coral in swim-safe areas.

The fish life in Phi Phi is pretty good compared with other islands closer to the mainland. Interesting fish often come into the roped-off, shallow waters. There is a good range of Wrasse, Rabbitfish, Surgeonfish species, as well as the usual Parrotfish and Butterflyfish, Less-common species seen include a few Sweetlips, and some schooling Trevally and Fusiliers.

The Burgundy coloured line on my maps is the area that I snorkelled.

Access
Most entry-points into the water are from sandy beaches. Hard-soled footwear isn’t essential, but it is always a good idea, just-in-case. Some beaches do have difficult access to the water at low tides, because of the coral in the shallows. See the individual sections, below.

Currents
Currents were no problem. There was a mild current running North to South down the East coast, which was tedious to swim against, but nothing serious. At more remote locations, I couldn’t get around the headlands at 10a or 8d. Elsewhere, there were no currents at all.

Jellyfish
In a week’s worth of snorkelling, I only saw two jellyfish and they were of the non-stinging variety.

General Safety considerations
Boats, boats, boats. Plus the standard ones listed here.

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That’s enough orientation – let’s get on with the area-by-area details:

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Areas 1, 2 and 3 – Southwest Ko Nai

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All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions.

This stretch of coastline is characterised by long, flat, sandy beaches broken up by the occasional rocky headland. Most beach-side resorts are in this area.

There is a long track leading all the way along this stretch of coast. Occasionally, it turns-up the hillside to skirt-round a resort (even needing a climb-rope at one point), but, generally, this area is one of the easiest parts of the island to reach.

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Area 1 – Ton Sai to Viking Nature Resort

The first beach at Ton Sai (area 1a on the map) is mainly a boat-park. The beach is fine for sitting-out in the sun, and it is conveniently close to lots of bars and restaurants, but it is a non-starter for snorkelling. The shallows are mud-flats for about the first 50 metres off the beach and after that, the water is still only knee-deep for another 100m:
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You can see the location of the reef drop-off in the picture (waaay off in the distance – where the sea turns dark-blue,). Beyond this drop-off is the busiest area for boats on the whole island, as it is the deep-water entrance to the jetty. This area is a total non-starter for snorkelling. Move along, please.

Around the headland and into Haat Hin Khom (“sharp rock beach”), things aren’t that different. There is less mud and more sand, but the rake of the beach is still very shallow. At low tides, the few small chunks of coral get exposed to the air, which kills them off. The coral here is something to stub your toe on, rather than to marvel at.

The light blue areas on the map indicate this kind of shallow water (typically less-than knee-deep at low-tide).

Heading South East, when you get past area 1b, the water starts to get deeper.

Between areas 1b and 1c, you start to see actual, living coral:
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Satellite pictures show area 1c as a popular stop-off for snorkel-trip boats. Here’s the reef there, together with a smattering of reef fish:
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In Phi Phi, where there are boats, there are boat anchors. Boat captains don’t seem to worry about what they do to the corals:
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We are at the edge of the reef now, where the reef slopes down to the deeper waters of the bay. This reef “drop-off” is traditionally the best area for finding wildlife; but, being in the boat-trip lane of a developed tourist island – it is not very safe to come here. I visited in the late afternoon, when most boats had gone away. The early morning (say, before 8am) would be another possibility. At all other times, I wouldn’t even contemplate swimming here without boat-cover.

This is the drop-off between areas 1c and 1d:
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Here’s a Parrotfish and a Red Breasted/Maori Wrasse:
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…and a few schooling Moorish Idols:
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I also saw an uncommon adult Many-Spotted/Harlequin Sweetlips skulking-off under a rock.

Btw, if you hover your mouse over any picture with a fish in, you can see the name of the species at the bottom of your browser window. Also, check out the Specieslist for a longer list.

Approaching the end of Haat Hin Khom (at area 1d), I saw some of these uncommon Twotone-Dartfish (Ptereleotris evides). Here, they are surrounded by a variety of Wrasses:
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At 1d, a couple of new coral species come into the picture:
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The stretch from 1d to 2a had scrappy corals, but some decent life in the shape of this Vagabond Butterflyfish and funky two-tone Sea Urchin:
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I also saw an uncommon Blue Spined Surgeonfish here.

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Area 2 – Haat Yao

Haat Yao (Long beach, หาดยาว) is a 500m stretch of sand, housing four or five popular mid-range resorts. There is a walking path leading there from Ton Sai town, (walkers’ Hint: At Bay View Resort – go past the restaurant then turn left up a paved service-road for a few metres; then turn right and continue along the elevated footpath running parallel to the coast. Hint2: At Viking Nature Resort, there are a few divergent tracks through the resort, but they are well signposted and end up at the same destination. When you get to the end of Viking Nature Resort, take a right, down the steep, rootsy track down to the start of Haat Yao. There is a climb rope here to help you down, but don’t be discouraged – I saw five-year-old children using it just fine.

Back at sea, you shouldn’t have any trouble spotting the headland where Viking Nature Resort is:
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Here’s the scene at the drop-off, halfway round Viking’s rocky headland:
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Rounding the headland into Haat Yao, at 2a:
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Centre-shot, slinking off into the distance, is the uncommon Yellowtail-Scad:
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Here is the scene about a third of the way down Haat Yao (level with Blue Sky Resort):
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..where someone has been trying to seed some new coral growth:
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This Whitecheek Monocle Bream is fairly uncommon:
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The best coral I found on all of Phi Phi was here, at the drop-off, about level with Long Beach Bungalows:
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Continuing South East down Haat Yao, there were some schooling One-Spot Snapper and Sergeant Major Damselfish:
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Towards the end of Haat Yao, I had some fun chasing around after some Orange-Spined Unicornfish:
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and saw an evil (coral eating) Crown-of-Thorns Starfish:
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Like I said – the drop-off is quite a way out from the beach and (even setting-aside the danger from boats), some folks might feel uncomfortable being this far away from dry land:
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The safer alternative is to snorkel closer to shore. Unfortunately, the corals are nowhere near as good here. The coral in these shallower waters are typically like this:
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Right next to the beach, there are roped-off safe swim-zones to keep swimmers and boats apart. It is a looong way from the edge of the swim-zone to the decent coral at the drop-off:
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But the fish-life can still be good there. I met this cheeky school of Trevally in the shallows near 2d:
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Area 3 – Shark Point

Shark Point is at the Southern end of Haat Yao. You shouldn’t have trouble finding it:
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There is a line of submerged rocks leading out to a bigger rock 100m offshore:
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(the rock is centre-right, btw, – not Phi Phi Lay, out on the horizon!)

Small blacktip reef sharks often cruise near the big rock – sometimes on the left (3b), sometimes on the right (3a).

Again, you need to be quite a way out from the beach to get to where the action is. See how far the rock is from the swim-zone?:
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At least you are protected from speedboats here, as they can’t get through the line of shallow rocks, and will take a wider berth.

If you feel more comfortable staying in the shallows, there is always a chance of seeing a shark there, but the chances are better the further out you go.

Don’t expect too much from the corals in the shallows:
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To spot a shark, you will have to be patient and eagle-eyed, as they are timid and well-camouflaged against they grey, rocky bottom:
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Underwater visibility wasn’t good here. In these pictures, I have had a lot of help from Doctor Photoshop to remove the murk from the water.

For the best chance of seeing a shark, try to keep still in the water. Be prepared to wait for a long time, scanning all around for a flicker in the greyness. It seems that most people arrive here in a boat, swim around for ten minutes, see nothing, then get back in the boat and leave again. Have patience, grasshopper.

I came here on three occasions and saw sharks on two of those – both times on the left/South/3b side of the rocks.

Usually sharks are more active in the low-light of the mornings and evenings, but here, they seemed just as forthcoming in the middle of the day.

Good luck!

Scared about sharks? Read this.

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Shark Point is not all about the sharks. I saw this Great Barracuda chilling-out in the shallows:
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…and the big rock at the, err, point of Shark Point provides shelter for a multitude of reef-fish.

This is probably the best place on Phi Phi for looking at reef-fish:
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(Mouseover for species names, or checkout the Specieslist).

There are even a couple of dabs of coral:
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Well, that’s the it for best of Phi Phi’s ‘easy-to-reach’ snorkelling. If you want more places for decent snorkelling, you will have to haul-yourself over the hill to the East coast.

I swam around the point (Laem Por) to get to the East side.

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Area 4 – Laem Por (แหลมพ้อ)

Leaving Shark Point, I had to twist & turn to avoid picking-up an unwelcome passenger:
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Sharksuckers attach themselves on to sharks and other big fish (and people) to get an easy ride (plus some free food). They are persistent little beggars and can rip your skin if you remove them wrongly, so it is best not to let them on-board in the first place. Repeated foot-in-the-face-moves will eventually get rid of them.

There was some living coral, at 4a,right at the end of Haat Yao:
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But, on turning the corner, everything became boring rocks:
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There is not much to recommend snorkelling this section of the island. Underwater, it is all rocks. Up top, it is one of the busiest areas for boat traffic, because everyone cuts-in to get round the corner to the Northern beaches or Krabi.

The only appeal here is a couple of intriguing-looking little beaches.

I think that this first one is part of PP Hill resort:
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I’m not sure about this one at 4b:
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If you want to investigate those, I would suggest coming by kayak. Swimming here from Haat Yao is probably not a good idea.

The rocky seabed continues on upto the beach at Ao Por:
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When you arrive at Ao Por, there is sand and rocks underwater, but no coral:
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Ao Por / Poh / Pooh (อ่าวพ้อ, ?Winge Bay?!) is a mysterious little number, accessible overland by some confusing tracks going over the hill from “Phi Phi The Beach Resort” at the Southern end of Haat Yao.
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It was high tide when I swam past Ao Por. The beach was non-existent at high water. But here is the more expansive version, at low tide:
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Apparently, Ao Por used to house a nice backpacker resort. At the time of writing (2015),there were only some abandoned, half-built luxury cabanas up the hillside and half a concrete outhouse behind the beach. I don’t know what the story is, but no-doubt it won’t be long before some kind of development resumes.

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Getting there:
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To get to Ao Por by walking from Haat Yao, start at Phi Phi The Beach Resort and head up the steep paved road running perpendicular to the beach. Follow the signs to the Seaview Sunrise Bar (or Monkey bar):
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When you get to the Sunrise Bar, continue straight ahead (through it) and on down the hill to find the rough track to the sea:
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If you are staying at Phi Phi Hill Resort, there is also a track next to Bungalow F4, which joins up with the West-East track on the top of the hill. Turn right on it to reach the Sunrise Bar and then continue as above.

Back in the sea, I continued past Ao Por and on Northwards towards Ao Lo Mu Dii. Soon the coral started up again. It was in quite good condition:
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Now that we’re back into coral territory, we can can consider the East coast to have properly started.

Area 5 – East Coast

The East coast is a bit of a hike from the rest of the island but with 6 km of coral reef running alongside, it is worth a visit.

Above the water, the coastline is mainly steep and rocky, but there are are a few long, sandy bays dotted up and down the coast. Most of the beaches have a couple of resorts – mostly quiet, midrange, family places.

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Getting there:
All the beaches can be reached by steep, narrow footpaths radiating down from the high-ground in the middle of the island. There is no formal coastal path but people report that you can rock-hop between beaches when the tide is low.

East coast (Southern half):
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All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions.

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Ao Por to Ao Lo Moo Dii

Continuing North from Ao Por (at 5a), there is a solid showing of coral, mostly in good condition, and with some species diversity:
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After about 500m, you approach Ao Lo Moo Dii/ Loh Mu Dee (อ่าวโละมูดี).

Phi Phi island was on the original migration route of the Chao Leh, sea gypsy people, who originated from Sumatra in Indonesia and took-up residence on various islands up the Andaman coast.

Many placenames on Ko Phi Phi are just the “sound” of the Chao Leh/Indonesian/Malay names and don’t mean anything in Thai. Anything starting with “Loh/Lo” is a case in point.

Ao Lo Moo Dii has a beautiful, long, quiet beach, backed by coconut palms:
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At the time of writing (2015), Ao Lo Moo Dii had no resorts – only a single, private restaurant which was marked-up as being for the exclusive use of the Nonthasak daytrip boat out of Phuket.

I’m not sure if the beach is private, but the caretaker fella didn’t seem to mind a few interlopers, as long as you don’t act like you own the place.

The area behind the beach was all marked-out with string, in preparation for the building of about 20 bungalows on the site. Tezza says that its been on the cards since 2002.

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Getting there:
You’re unlikely to come here by swimming. The walking route from Haat Yao is an extension of the service road for Phi Phi The Beach Resort. To find it, just head up the concrete road at the South end of Phi Phi The Beach Resort and, when you’ve got as high as you can, turn left to Ao Lo Moo Dii (instead of right to Ao Por).

There are a few signposts on the way:
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and those two maps to Ao Por apply again: 1 2.  (One of the maps shows a coastal path from Por to Lo Moo Dii, which I didn’t find).

It is not too far until you reach the track down to Ao Lo Moo Dii:
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And the beach:
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As with all the other beaches on Phi Phi, it is a long way from the beach to the drop-off.

The shallows are mostly sandy and free-from toe-stubbable coral relics.

Technically, you are still at risk from speed-boat propellers at the drop-off, but the amount of boat traffic is much lower here, because many of the boats will have veered-off South East towards Krabi. Also, the reef is a little wider, so you don’t need to go right up to the edge of it to find good coral.

The best coral in Ao Lo Moo Dii is at its Southern end. Here are a couple of spots in the South, near the drop-off:
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There is even a patch of lovely soft-coral:
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The coral is not pristine, but it is in pretty-good condition. This is certainly one of the best snorkelling spots on the island.

Here are a couple of notable fish found in the area:
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(Mouseover for species names), or see the Specieslist.

Here is a shot of the coral a little further North (about halfway along the bay):
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Some daytrip speedboats make a stop here:
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A few spots on the East coast enjoy the presence of mooring buoys, so that boats don’t smash-up the coral by dropping their anchors on it. I will never understand why nobody thought of this twenty years ago for the rest of Phi Phi.

The restaurant/caretaker guy’s responsibilities seem to include buoy maintenance:
258_5-Buoy-Management_20150407_IMG_5948.jpg

There is also coral in the shallower waters, closer into the beach, but, like everywhere else, it isn’t as good as the deeper stuff. This is in about one meter of water:
260_5-LMD-Shallows_20150407_IMG_5931.jpg

(btw, the depth at the top of the drop-off is typically 2-3 metres, which is fine for snorkelling)

The coral continues in the North of the bay, but is in worse condition:
265_5-North-LMD_20150402_IMG_4857.jpg 266_5-Nth-Scraggy_20150402_IMG_4861.jpg

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Ao Lo Moo Dii to Ao Pak Naam

It is a 1km swim to reach the next beach to the North – Ao Toh Ko.

Here’s a coral shot from early-on:
280_5-Corals_20150402_IMG_4865GT.jpg

There are some intriguing-looking derelict huts halfway along the way:
281_5-Intriguing-Derelict-Huts_20150402_IMG_4867GT.jpg
Note the kayak parked in the driveway!

More corals, from the same spot:
283_5-Corals_20150402_IMG_4868GT.jpg 284_5-Corals_20150402_IMG_4869.jpg

A couple of interesting species-finds were this Scorpionfish, who failed camouflage class:
285_5-Scorpionfish_20150402_IMG_4872.jpg

…some vertically-unchallenged Razorfish (Aeoliscus strigatus):
287_5-Razorfish-Aeoliscus-strigatus_20150402_IMG_4873.jpg

a pretty, Long Beaked Coralfish:
289_5-Long-Beaked-coralfish_20150402_IMG_4880.jpg

and a Bluespined Surgeonfish retreating into the depths:
292_5-Bluespined-Surgeonfish_20150402_IMG_4876.jpg

Here are the corals on the Northernmost bit of this stretch, approaching Ao Toh Ko:
296_5-Corals_20150402_IMG_4881.jpg

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Ao Toh Ko (อ่าวโต๊ะกอ) is a secluded bay with a 200m metre beach and a lone resort.

298_5-Approaching-Toko_20150402_IMG_4882_.jpg
299_5-Toko-n-Rantee-from-the-Ferry_20150401_IMG_4743.jpg

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Getting there:
There is a walking track to Ao Toh Ko signposted from the track behind Viewpoint 2:
302_5-Its-a-Siiign_20150401_IMG_4774GT.jpg
(the junction is marked as J1 on my map).

Apparently, at low tide, it is also possible to walk along a coastal track to Lo Moo Dii. Tezza says that at low tides you can also rock-hop North to Ao Ran Tii.

Here are a couple of shots from the bay outside Toh Ko Beach Resort:
303_5-Toko-bay-Corals_20150402_IMG_4883.jpg 304_5-Beaked-Coralfish_20150402_IMG_4884.jpg

305_5-Tohko-Resort_20150402_IMG_4885GT.jpg

The next bay to the North is Ao Ran Tii. From Ao Toh Ko, it is a 300m swim around a rocky stretch of coastline.

I only took one underwater picture on this stretch, so I guess that the area was unremarkable. Here’s the picture. It is a Clam:
306_5-Clam_20150402_IMG_4888.jpg
It is fairly big, but it isn’t a Giant Clam, which is a distinct species (and extinct in Thailand).

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Ao Ran Tii (อ่าวรันตี) is another secluded bay. It has 300 metre beach and a couple of mid-range resorts:
309_5-Approaching-Rantii_20150402_IMG_4891GT.jpg

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Getting there:
Walking access (like with Toh Ko) is via a track from “Junction 1” (J1 on my map):

Tezza reports that, at low tide, you can also rock-hop South to Ao Toh Ko and North to Ao Pak Naam.

314_5-Rantii-Restaurant_20150402_IMG_4897.jpg

Here’s a view of the corals in the bay:
310_5-Rantii-Coral_20150402_IMG_4892GT.jpg 311_5-Rantii-Coral_20150402_IMG_4893.jpg

Continuing Northwards, here are some coral-shots:
318_5-Corals-North-of-Rantii_20150402_IMG_4900.jpg

Most (?all) of the Andaman’s shallow-water Staghorn corals were nuked by the temperature-warming events of 2010 (and 1996):
319_5-Corals-North-of-Rantii_20150402_IMG_4901GT.jpg
These are no exception.

Some interesting wildlife found on this stretch:
321_5-Juvi-Brown-Sweetlips_20150402_IMG_4898.jpg 338_5-One-Spot-Snapper_20150402_IMG_4927.jpg 337_5-Brown-Sweetlips_20150402_IMG_4916.jpg 335_5-Jellybean-Coral-n-Clarkes-Nemo_20150402_IMG_4922.jpg 334_5-Crown-of-Thorns-Starfish_20150402_IMG_4919.jpg Thai_PPDon_330_5-Coral-Rabbitfish_20150402_IMG_4913 325_5-Juvi-Yellow-Boxfish_20150402_IMG_4907.jpg 324_5-Silver-Batfish_20150402_IMG_4909.jpg 323_5-Yellowbelly-Damselfish_20150402_IMG_4904.jpg 322_5-Moon-Wrasse-n-Bannerfish_20150402_IMG_4903.jpg
Mouseover for names.

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The next secluded bay to the North is Ao Pak Naam (อ่าวผักหนาม). It translates as “Spiky Vegetable” bay – though I’m not sure which spiky vegetable.

The oldest resort here is called “Relax Beach Resort” and you will sometimes find the beach referred to as “Relax Beach”, rather than Pak Naam Beach (including on the sign back at J1):

I did use the walking track when I left this beach. When it reached the high ground at the centre of the island, I followed it round a tangle of tracks to emerge at junction J3, rather than J1 (where it is also signposted).

The coast-end of the access track runs parallel to the coast, about 30 metres above sea-level. This gives you a good aerial view of Pak Naam Bay:
341_5-Pak-Naam-Bay-from-Relax-Rst-Hilltop_20150402_IMG_4989.jpg

You can see a lot of corals in the shallows. These toe-stubbers make it difficult to get to the drop-off at low tides. This is common at a few of Phi Phi’s East coast beaches, but it seems to be the worst, here. There is a tiny group of fishermens’ huts at the North end of the beach – use one of their boat-lanes as an easy way to get past the toe-stubbers and out to the deep water beyond.

Out on the horizon are Ko Yung/Mosquito Island (on the left) and Ko Mai Pai/Bamboo Island on the right.

Here’s the view of Haat Pak Naam, taken from the drop-off:
342_5-Pak-Naam-Beach-from-the-Dropoff_20150402_IMG_4942GT.jpg

The corals out there typically look like this:
344_5-Haat-PakNaam-Corals_20150402_IMG_4944.jpg 343_5-Haat-Pak-Naam-Corals_20150402_IMG_4941.jpg

Some interesting sea-life here was this Varicose Phyllidia Nudibranch (a kind of sea-slug) and a small school of departing Lattice Butterflyfish:
346_5-Varicose-Phyllidia-Nudibranch_20150402_IMG_4939.jpg 348_5-Lattice-Butterflyfish_20150402_IMG_4947.jpg

The were also crowds of audacious Sergeant Major Damselfish:
349_5-Sergeant-Major-Damsels_20150402_IMG_4937.jpg
Hoards of Sergeant Majors is usually a sign that daytrip boats stop here and feed them. Please don’t feed fish – it is bad for the ecosystem. Why? Read this or this.

It is another 500m on to the next bay, Ao Lo Ba Kao.

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Ao Pak Naam to Ao Lo Baakao

Coral condition on this stretch is pretty good. These are from the Southern section:
357_5-Corals-Nth-of-PakNaam_20150402_IMG_4951.jpg 372_5-Coral-Nth-Paknaam_20150402_IMG_4958.jpg 363_5-Corals-Nth-of-PakNaam_20150402_IMG_4955.jpg 360_5-Corals-Nth-of-PakNaam_20150402_IMG_4953.jpg

Some interesting sea-life on the way included these schooling Sweepers:
377_5-Sweepers_20150402_IMG_4959.jpg

… a stealthy Scorpionfish:
378_5-Scorpionfish_20150402_IMG_4984.jpg

… the pookie-dancing juvenile Many-Spotted Sweetips:
383_5-Juvi-Many-Spotted-Sweetlips_20150402_IMG_4981.jpg

… and an uncommon species of Sea-Urchin, Mespilia Globulus:
384_5-Urchin-Mespilia-Globulus_20150402_IMG_4976.jpg

Further North (almost at Ao Lo Baakao), coral condition is more variable:
386_5-Corals_20150402_IMG_4966.jpg 388_5-Corals_20150402_IMG_4973.jpg

with a good showing by a Sea Fan:
385_5-Sea-Fan_20150402_IMG_4985.jpg

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This fancy resort (?Villa 360) marks the start of Ao Lo Baakao:
390_5-Fancy-Resort-South-LBK_20150402_IMG_4963GT.jpg

By now, it was low-tide and it seemed impossible to get across the corals in the shallow bay:
391_5-Ao-Lo-Baakao_20150402_IMG_4965_.jpg
so I turned around and swam back to Ao Pak Naam, ready for the long walk home.

Apparently, it is possible to walk between Ao Lo Baakao and Ao Pak Naam along the rocky coastline. It looks feasible from here:
392_5-Rock-Hop-PakNaam-LoBaaKao_20150402_IMG_4970.jpg
..but why would you when you can swim 🙂 ?

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East Coast, Northern stretch
395_5n67-Map-5n67.jpg
All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions.

Lo Baakao Area

I resumed my East coast journey the next day by taking the walking track from Ton Sai to Ao Lo Baakao.

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Getting there:
The track to Lo Baakao has a different starting point from the three previous ones. For Ao Lo Baakao, you have to haul yourself up to the highest viewpoint (Viewpoint 3) and take the little turning 100m before it (Junction 4 (J4) on my map), then descend Northwards down the narrow dusty path. When you get to sea level, there is a T-junction with a paved footpath. The right turn leads to the South end of Ao Lo Baakao; and the left turn loops around to the North end. The left turn also has a spur off to Ao Lo Laana on the West-coast.

(By the way, there is a section on Walking Tracks at the end of this article. It goes into more detail on directions, etc.).

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Ao Lo Baakao (อ่าวโละบาเกา) is a huge sandy bay, dominated by a single midrange (somewhat corporate) resort:
400_5-Lo-BaaKao-Bay-n-PP-Island-Rst_20150408_IMG_5978.jpg

402_5-PP-Island-Rst_20150404_IMG_5199.jpg

The resort keeps changing hands (and names). At the time of writing it had just finished being Outrigger Phi Phi Island Resort. Many of the signposts on the walking track still point to that name, so it is good to know, even though it is probably called something else by now (edit: I think it is reverting to its previous name of Phi Phi Island Village).

This part of the island is on low ground and it is one of the few places where you can get from one coast to the other without breaking into a sweat. There is another sandy bay (Ao Lo Laana) ten minutes away on the West Coast. On the flatland between the two coasts is a small village (labelled “High Street” on my map). It has a few general stores and some driftwood restaurants where escapees from the expensive resort can sample what they think is local culture and prices. Ha!

403_5-LBK-River_20150404_IMG_5195GT.jpg

404_5-LBK-Village-Restaurants_20150404_IMG_5196.jpg
853_ALTMAP2-Lo-Baakao-n-Environs_20150401_IMG_4783.jpg

From here North, everything is veeery expensive, with rooms typically in the 9000+THB range.

A couple of last-chance exceptions are Coral Bay Resort, set back behind the big resort:
406_5-Coralbay-Hut-2400THB_20150408_IMG_5973.jpg
But it is hardly a bargain. This hut (overlooking a dusty road) goes for 2400THB (sleeps 3).

There is also a dorm/tent/backpacker joint on the West side (more about that in section 7, Ao Lo Laana).

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Ao Lo Baakao to Laem Thong

Let’s get back in the water and continue our journey up the East coast….

That East Coast (Northern Section) map again.

The seabed in Lo Baakao bay is sandy, straight-off-the-beach. It is suitable for dunking the kids in on a hot day. But further out (in knee-deep water) there are many chunks of dead coral which, at low tide, would make it difficult to get any further. Not that there is any reason to do so – there is no coral reef here. A hundred metres out from the beach, the sandy bottom just slopes down and down into the depths.

This is the sort of place where you pay for the organised boat trip, not do do-it-yourself snorkelling.

If you do want to get in or out via the bay, there is a deep-water channel at the Northern end (that ultimately leads to the river which runs through the village). It is not a comfortable swim. You will have to compete with longtail taxi boats and more ‘industrial’ scale vessels delivering goods to the resort and village.

The coral reef starts-up again as you head North from sandy Ao Lo Baakao. But if you are swimming out from the bay, note that the drop-off into deep water remains sand (not coral). The reef, itself, sits in a narrow strip, closer to the shore. If you are further out (swimming North from the bay, following the sandy drop-off), you might fail to notice the reef.

See what I mean?:
431_5-Coral-Sand-dropoff-conundrum-MU_20150408_IMG_5979.jpg

Here is the coral a couple of hundred metres North of Ao Lo Baakao:
432_5-Leaving-LBK_20150404_IMG_5207.jpg

Here, I saw my only Moray Eel:
434_5-Moray-Eel_20150404_IMG_5210.jpg

Continuing North, the coral is in reasonable shape:
436_5-Coral_20150404_IMG_5212.jpg

and I saw this Skunk Anemonefish playing in his Anemone home:
438_5-Skunk-Anemonefish_20150404_IMG_5220.jpg

Here is the coral about halfway to the next resort (Holiday Inn):
440_5-Coral_20150404_IMG_5222GT.jpg

Continuing up the coastline, the coral is similar:
444_5-Coral_20150404_IMG_5224.jpg

With an occasional flourish:
446_5-Coral_20150404_IMG_5225.jpg

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Soon, you arrive at the hi-falutin’ end of the island – Haat Laem Thong.

Laem Thong is the long, skinny peninsula that occupies the Northern third of Phi Phi Don.

“Laem” means cape/peninsula.

Thai is a tonal language and it also has several letters which sound identical to each other. Consequently, for each “word” like “Thong”, there are actually up-to five (and often ten or twenty) different words in Thai that all end-up being “Thong” when squeezed into the tight shoes of the Western alphabet. Most maps are written in English and I was expecting that the ‘Thong’ in Laem Thong would be ทอง (golden). “Golden peninsula” sounds nice, doesn’t it? But, no. It turns out that the Thai is ตง. The best translation I can find for this is “girder”. So, welcome to Girder-Peninsula Beach, holidaymakers.

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Haat Laem Thong (หาดแหลมตง) is a 500m long stretch of sand hosting four or five high-end resorts. This is where the high-rollers come.

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Getting there:
There is a paved walking path from Ao Lo Baakao to Haat Laem Thong. Paved, so that the well-heeled resort guests don’t damage their, well, heels. It is wide and flat enough to take a luxury golf-cart taxi, so shouldn’t give you any problems walking it.

Walking North from Ao Lo Baakao, the path tips-out on the beach at the South end of Holiday Inn Resort:
452_5-South-end-of-HLT-by-Holiday-Inn_20150408_IMG_5986.jpg
The beach is quite narrow down this end, but widens-out, the further you go up the beach.

Ho-tel, mo-tel, Holiday Iiiin:
454_5-Hotel-Motel-HI_20150404_IMG_5233.jpg
This is actually quite a fancy resort.

Snorkelling in Laem Thong bay itself is as dull as ditch water. It is all plain, sandy bottom. This was the major highlight:
455_5-Haat-Laem-Thong-Snork_20150404_IMG_5230.jpg

Satellite pictures do show a coral reef dropoff, about 100m off the beach, but there were a lot of boats coming and going. Even to a suicidal-nutcase snorkeller, this was a propeller too far. Haat Laem Thong is another place where you are supposed to pay for the organised boat tour, rather than going it alone.

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Avoiding the boats and getting back into the deep-waters at the Northern end of Haat Laem Thong, this was the view looking back at the bay:
456_5-Leaving-HLT_20150404_IMG_5241GT.jpg

Heading North, the coral wasn’t all that great:
458_5-Coral-Nr-Natural-Rst_20150404_IMG_5242GT.jpg 464_5-Coral_20150404_IMG_5246.jpg 462_5-Coral_20150404_IMG_5245.jpg 460_5-Nr-Natural-Rst_20150404_IMG_5243.jpg

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Area 6 – The Northern tip of Laem Thong

I wasn’t intending to swim right around the Northern point, because, according to the laws of snorkel-mechanics, ‘Strong Current + Remote Peninsula = Unhappy Ending’. So I gave it a few hundred metres out of Haat Laem Thong, then turned around and swam back again.

I went back to the Northern point a few days later on a walking-only sortie. I found that you can sneak through the back lanes, staff quarters and bottle dump of Phi Phi Natural Resort to reach the very Northern tip of the island. The last bit is a steep scramble down some climb-ropes to a cute little beach at the Northern tip.

It turns out there are plenty of snorkel escape-routes on both the North-East strip (seen here from a boat):
470_5-North-East_20150406_IMG_5734.jpg

..and the Northern-beach, itself:
472_5-North_20150406_IMG_5733.jpg 474_5-Northern-Beach_20150408_IMG_6000.jpg

The West coast would be more tricky to deal with – it is all steep rocks and no walking tracks.
Here is the view (from a boat), looking down the West side:
476_5-North-West_20150406_IMG_5728.jpg

I don’t recommend that you go to Area 6. From what I saw from the surface, the snorkelling didn’t look too special; there is a lot of boat traffic round the Northern point; and you never know what the currents will be doing. Plus, if you do need to make an emergency exit, you will have to trample through an expensive, private resort.

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Area 7 – Mid-West Laem Thong to Ao Lo Dalam

Having covered all I reasonably could on the East side of the island, I got ready to make my way back down the West side.

That North PP Don map again.

Halfway down Haat Laem Thong (near Jasmin Restaurant), there is a track going across to a service-jetty on the West side.

I went there, jumped off the jetty at 7a and started swimming South. Note that this a one-way ticket – you can jump-off the jetty into the sea here, but you can’t get back out of the water again (unless you can levitate!). It is all sharp rocks and surging waves on either side of the jetty, so don’t start something you can’t finish.

The West coast is quite pretty, with big rocks all along the waterline:
501_7a-L-West-Jetty-from-7b_20150404_IMG_5260.jpg
(if you look closely, you can see the service-jetty on the left, behind the orange buoy).

Unfortunately, lots of rocks above the surface often means lots of rocks below the surface. Which means dull snorkelling:
504_7ab-Rocks_20150404_IMG_5258.jpg

Occasionally, there is a peppering of coral growth on the rocks, but, generally, this section 7a7c is dull, dull, dull:
506_7-Rocks-n-Table-Coral_20150404_IMG_5266.jpg

There seems to be some kind of Sunset bar/restaurant up on the cliff at 7b:
508_7b-Sunset-Bar_20150404_IMG_5261.jpg
from the map, it looks like it belongs to Holiday Inn.

The rocky seabed continues as far as 7c, where some coral growth starts-up:
510_7c-Coral-Reef-starts-up_20150404_IMG_5268GT.jpg
It’s a bit scraggy, though.

Here’s the view from 7d, looking towards the beach:
513_7d-LoLana-Bay_20150404_IMG_5280GT.jpg

Ao Lo Laana (อ่าวโละลานะ) seems to be all flat, sandy bottom and very shallow water – not really worth snorkelling in. There is a deep(ish) channel dredged at the Northern end if you want to get in/out to the deeper water.

I didn’t swim ashore there, but I did walk there a couple of times.

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Getting there:
The walking route from the South is the same as for Ao Lo Baakao – up towards Viewpoint 3; take the downhill turning at J4, continue past J5 for 100m until you come to a T-junction with a paved path, where you turn left (then left again) for Ao Lo Laana.

The beach is attractive and is probably the emptiest one on Ko Phi Phi:
519_7-Haat-Lo-Laana_20150404_STA_5187.jpg
(at low tides, when boats can’t get there, anyway).

The resorts over on the East side (Ao Lo Baakao) are ridiculously expensive, but back at the West coast (Ao Lo Laana) there was some building going on, which might turn-out to be lower priced:
518_7-LoLaana-Newbuilds_20150404_IMG_5186.jpg

The better option for cheapskates is Green Beach Camping, about 100m back from the beach at Ao Lo Laana. They offer three-bed dorms (pictured) and also rent-out tents:
516_7-Green-Beach-Camping_20150404_IMG_5182.jpg
Toilets & showers are at the end of the garden.

I can’t find where I wrote down the prices, but they wasn’t as cheap as I expected. Somewhere around 500THB for a dorm and 400 for a tent. (edit: now that it’s open season again, Agoda is saying 400B for the dorm and 600B for (their) tent).

You wouldn’t want to carry a heavy backpack to here from Ton Sai – you will need to invest in a longtail taxi, just this once. Apparently, the asking price is 1000THB, or you can get about a third off that if you book it through the resort.

Back in the water, the mouth of Ao Lo Laana (at 7d) is a popular stop for daytrip speedboats:
531_7d-Snorkelboats_20150404_IMG_5275.jpg

Though I really couldn’t figure out why!:
532_7-Snorkelboats-snorkelling_20150404_IMG_5278.jpg

There is a small fishermens’ village on the South-western jaw of the bay:
534_7-Fishermens-Village_20150404_IMG_5279GT.jpg

The coastline on the 7e-7h stretch is rocky. There is a cool pinnacle at 7e:
536_7e-Cool-Rock_20150406_IMG_5722.jpg

It looks similar under the waterline:
537_7e-Cool-Rock_20150404_IMG_5284.jpg

There isn’t much underwater wildlife in these rocky environments, but these tangled Jellyfish were an interesting diversion:
539_7e-Jellyfish_20150404_IMG_5286.jpg

There are a few small rocky coves between 7e and f:
540_7f-Rocky-Coves_20150404_IMG_5289.jpg

I met this colourful Crown of Thorns Starfish there:
543_7f-Crown-of-Thorns-Starfish_20150404_IMG_5292.jpg

Around 7f, there are a few caves and overhanging rocks that you can swim under:
544_7f-Rocky-Overhang_20150404_IMG_5295GT.jpg 546_7f-Cool-Rock_20150404_IMG_5299.jpg

With the surging sea rising and falling, it was quite difficult to get into this cave:
547_7f-Stalactite-Cave_20150404_IMG_5307.jpg

..but the stalactites inside were cool:
548_7f-Stalactite-Cave_20150404_IMG_5313.jpg

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Rounding the corner at 7f, you come to Camel Rock:
550_7-Camel-Rock_20150404_IMG_5305.jpg

And Ao Noi (อ่าวน้ย):
551_7-Ao-Noy_20150404_IMG_5320.jpg

The ‘cute beach plus towering rock pinnacle’ combo makes for classic island imagery and, unsurprisingly, this is a popular stop for the daytrip boats:
553_7-Ao-Noy-Boats_20150404_IMG_5316.jpg

While the daytrip boats are parked-up between Ao Noi and Camel Rock, they drop people in for a snorkel. The coral here is pretty skanky:
554_7-Ao-Noy-Skanky-Coral_20150404_IMG_5324.jpg

I wonder why:
555_7-Ao-Noy-Anchor_20150404_IMG_5323.jpg

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Apparently, at low tides, it is possible to rock-hop from Ao Lo Laana to a track that starts near the fishermens’ village (7d-ish) and leads to Ao Noi. Local guy Chat (?from ‘the Beach Bar’- in the “High Street” on my map) seems keen to provide directions &/or assistance. If low tide coincides with early morning (before the tour boats arrive), you can get some great pictures.

I would have liked to swim out to Camel Rock, but every boat on the island comes whizzing through this strait and it was no-way safe to swim there.

The corals in the Southern half of Ao Noi were a little better than at the boat-zone:
556_7-South-Ao-Noy_20150404_IMG_5329.jpg
..but I couldn’t find anything (coral-wise) to support the “good snorkelling” claims I had read.

The views above the waves are much better:
557_7-SouthAo-Noy_20150404_IMG_5330.jpg

Leaving Ao Noi and swimming South, the limestone formations are the stars of the show:
559_7g-Camel-Rock_20150404_IMG_5350.jpg
560_7g-Cliff-face_20150406_IMG_5717.jpg

The underwater rocks were 95% boring:
562_7g-Rocks_20150404_IMG_5341.jpg

…with just an occasional feature to draw the interest:
563_7g-Softcorals_20150404_IMG_5344.jpg

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At 7g, the sloping shelf of underwater rocks turns into a plummeting wall of underwater rock:
566_7g-Wall_20150404_IMG_5355.jpg

..which, 5m deep, played host to some attractive Sea-Fans:
567_7g-Sea-fan_20150404_IMG_5356.jpg

Rocky terrains don’t tend to attract reef fish. They are, instead, the habitat of algae-feeders. One of these is the Lined Surgeonfish:
570_7g-Lined-Surgeonfish_20150404_IMG_5360GT.jpg
This one came-up to say goodbye to me as I was reaching the end of the rocky section near 7g.

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Entering the wider Ao Lo Dalam (อ่าวโละดาลัม), there are two or three small, isolated beaches nestling in its corner. You can reach them by kayak, or at a push, by rock-hopping at low tide:
571_7h-LoDalam-Little-Beaches_20150404_IMG_5368.jpg
Note that there is no shade from the sun.

There is some coral here, but it is in very poor condition:
573_7h-Scraggy-Coral_20150404_IMG_5367.jpg

This continues further into the bay, towards Ton Sai town:
575_7hi-Scraggy-Coral_20150404_IMG_5369.jpg

I tried to get out of the water between 7h and 7i, but it was impossible because the tide was low and the shallow waters were filled with bulky near-dead coral heads.

Instead, I followed the “drop-off” around past 7i and into the bay. Here are some shots of the coral on the stretch around 7i:
576_7i-Scraggy-Coral_20150404_IMG_5372GT.jpg 579_7i-Scraggy-Coral_20150404_IMG_5376GT.jpg 578_7i-Scraggy-Coral_20150404_IMG_5373GT.jpg
The coral is all a bit skanky, but if you are in Ton Sai town and you don’t want to walk very far for your snorkelling, then this is your closest option.

The underwater visibility was appalling here. The rake of the beach is very shallow and I guess that the outgoing tide was dragging all the murk along with it. If you are coming here, give it a try just before high tide, when, in theory, the visibility should be better.

Standing on the beach and looking out into the bay, you can see (on the right) those shallow coral heads that make access-to-the-water a non-starter:
582_7i-LoDalam-Shallow-Corals_20150404_IMG_5380.jpg

There are some tiny swim-zones in the shallows of the beach at Ao Lo Dalam (7j):
584_7j-Lo-Dalam-Beach_20150405_IMG_5395.jpg
These are really just to separate cooling sunbathers from parascenders’ speedboats. Don’t expect to find any remarkable snorkelling in these roped-off zones.

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West of Ton Sai

The Western end of the “dumbbell” that is Phi Phi Don is sometimes referred to as Ko Nork (“outside island”). It is uninhabited and very tall and rocky.

Here it is, seen from Viewpoint 3:
600_8-n-10-from-VP3_20150404_STz_5150_MU.jpg

602_8910-Map-8910.jpg
All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions.

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Area 8 – Ao Lo Dalam to Monkey Beach

If you are standing on the beach at Ao Lo Dalam, then to the, left around headland 8b, is Monkey Beach (หาดลิง) (more formally known as Ao Yong Kasaem (อ่าวหยงกาเส็ม)).

You can get there by kayak (rentals available at 8a). Or its not that big a deal to swim there.

Starting at 8a, I was hoping to find some decent coral on the way.

No such luck.

Ao Lo Dalam was badly hit by the 2004 tsunami. The first half of the swim is mostly bricks and rubble from former resorts.

Heading further North towards 8b, there is some coral, but its in appalling condition.

The only thing I saw of interest here was a nervous Blue-Fin Trevally, scuttling-off over the coral remnants:
603_8ab-Bluefin-Trevally_20150405_IMG_5407.jpg
This was the only example of this species that I saw in Phi Phi, (although, actually, I wouldn’t have expected to see any at all in this environment).

Approaching 8b, there was a school of Black-tip Silver Biddies passing through:
605_8b-Blacktip-Silver-Biddies_20150405_IMG_5411.jpg

… and some Needlefish:
606_8b-Needlefish_20150405_IMG_5420.jpg

… and the similar (but different) Halfbeaks:
607_8b-Halfbeaks_20150405_IMG_5426.jpg
The nose on the Halfbeak is only, well, half as thick as that on the Needlefish.

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Monkey Beach is a popular stop on the round-the-island boat trips and you will find a never-ending stream of speedboats and longtails calling in here, hoping that monkeys will come down from the highland forest to the beach:
609_8bc-Monkey-Beach2-boats_20150405_IMG_5438.jpg

With all those boats and people, it’s not exactly tranquil:
610_8bc-Monkey-Beach2-AM_20150405_IMG_5440.jpg
(Although it seems to get quieter in the afternoons).

If you are lucky, you might get to see some monkeys. Hopefully not surrounded by all the plastic garbage from yesterday’s throngs:
613_8bc-Nature1_20150405_IMG_5441.jpg

It is not good to feed wildlife in its natural habitat. Please don’t feed the monkeys. Here is a poster from neighbouring Malaysia giving some reasons why:
612_8-Langkawi-Monkey-Poster_P3114589.JPG

Nobody seems to care about such conservationism in Phi Phi. Boat captains throw out food to entice the monkeys down to the beach, and tour assistants hand-out bananas to customers as monkey food.

Please don’t perpetuate this kind of unnatural practice:
614_8bc-Nature2_20150405_IMG_5446.jpg

Also, you might just get bitten by a monkey when you run out of food for it. Feed me, Seymour.

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Several speedboat tours make Monkey Beach a snorkelling stop, too. The coral here is in bad condition:
617_8bc-MB2Coral_20150405_IMG_5428.jpg

I wonder why:
618_8bc-MB2Coral2_20150405_IMG_5429.jpg

Also, you should maybe watch-out for the boat-dude, trying to entertain himself while his tourists are at the beach:
619_8bc-Boat-Guy_20150405_IMG_5436.jpg

I swam along the reef edge from 8b to 8c, but didn’t find any snorkelling highlights.

I also had a swim out to the headland at 8d.

The coral here was in better condition, but it was still nothing special:
621_8d-Coral_20150405_IMG_5461GT.jpg

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Area 9 – West Ko Nork

The Westernmost coast of Phi Phi Don is all towering cliffs plunging vertically into the sea. I had thought I might try and swim it, but wasn’t too sure as it is a long way without any exit points.

As it turned out, there was a strong current running around the headland at 8d and I couldn’t get past it, anyway.

Nautical charts show no coral reef on the West side of the island. Plain rock can be so boring, so I guess there’s not much missed here.

I went along the West coast on a boat. Here’s the view at the Northern end:
627_9-NW-Nork_20150406_IMG_5707.jpg

..and a long-distance shot of the whole West side of Nork:
629_9-West-Nork_20150406_IMG_5695.jpg

Some daytrips visit a hidden bay halfway along the West coast (?Ao Wang Long/ อ่าวหวางหลง). Some also take you to the rock at the South end, so you can climb-up and jump-off it.

That’s all I got on Area 9.

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Area 10 – South East Ko Nork = West Ao Ton Sai

699_10-from-VP3_20150404_STz_5150_MU.jpg
All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions.

That Ko Nork map again.

This last area is another stop for daytrip boats. The area has some beautiful karst cliff formations; another Monkey Beach (actually, three) and some (mostly unimpressive) snorkelling spots.

I enjoyed it here – more for the views of the cliffs than the corals.

I came here early in the morning, which is the best time – the sunrise is lighting up the cliffs and the day-boats haven’t started-up yet.

I started from the beach and snorkelled 10i-10a-10i. But, for the sake of anticlockwiseisity, lets start from the cape at 10a.

There is a steep wall at 10a – above and below the waterline:
700_10a-Currenty-Wall_20150403_IMG_5105.jpg 701_10a-Currenty-Wall_20150403_IMG_5117.jpg

There was a strong current running South, so I couldn’t (safely) get any further than 10a.

Many species enjoy a bit of current and the presence of those species, in-turn, sets up a food-chain which brings-in lots of other sights to see.

There were sea fans and assorted softcorals, and lots of tunicates & sponges:
702_10a-Currenty-Wall-Seafan_20150403_IMG_5114.jpg

..plus Golden Damsels and schooling Fusiliers:
703_10a-Currenty-Wall-Seafan_20150403_IMG_5106.jpg 704_10a-Currenty-Wall-Wideband-Fusiliers_20150403_IMG_5107.jpg 705_10a-Golden-Damselfish_20150403_IMG_5111.jpg

Actually, if it wasn’t so far from dry-land, this spot could easily win the ‘best-snorkelling-on-the-island’ badge.

Right next to 10a is a narrow gap between two rocks, leading to a tiny “secret” beach:
706_10b-Little-Beach_20150403_IMG_5099.jpg
Boats can’t get in here, so swimmers will have the place to themselves. Well, apart from all the washed-up plastic debris that is. The beach is only 10m x 5m, so you probably wouldn’t want to spend the whole day here, but squeezing through the narrow channel does make you feel like a bit of an explorer!

Continuing North, you reach the first of the three “Monkey Beaches”. This one is quite small and, as it was high-tide, it was very small indeed. That didn’t prevent them from cramming four speedboats and two longtails in, though:
708_10c-First-Monkey-Beach10_20150403_IMG_5125.jpg

The underwater scenery was lacklustre:
710_10cd-Corals_20150403_IMG_5082.jpg

But the stuff up top was nice:
711_10cd-Pinnacle_20150403_IMG_5091GT.jpg

At 10d, is the second Monkey Beach. Actually, at high tide, there was no beach, so these two monkeys are perched in the trees, catching the banana slices that the boatmen throw to them:
713_10d-Second-Monkey-Beach10_20150403_IMG_5085.jpg

The last Monkey Beach is the biggest (although, again, underwater here):
716_10e-Third-Monkey-Beach10_20150403_IMG_5075GT.jpg
The metal sign to the right (hanging on the cliff) is a faded “don’t feed the monkeys” job. No-one seems to take much notice.

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I like the look of the cliffs here:
719_10f-Cool-Rocks_20150403_IMG_5074GT.jpg

..and the coral was looking a little healthier, too:
722_10f-Better-Coral_20150403_IMG_5070.jpg 723_10f-Better-Coral_20150403_IMG_5071.jpg

Once, on a daytrip here from Ko Lanta, we were dropped near 10g for a snorkelling stop. The corals are in bad condition:
727_10g-Scabby-Corals_20150403_IMG_5058.jpg 728_10g-Scabby-Corals_20150403_IMG_5052.jpg
I don’t think the boat captains have much idea about what is below the waves!

Nearby was an attractive Lined Butterflyfish:
729_10g-Lined-Butterflyfish_20150403_IMG_5057.jpg

Pop-quiz: Are these Needlefish?:
730_10g-Halfbeaks_20150403_IMG_5065.jpg
No, they are Halfbeaks!

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Here are some more cool rock formations between 10g and h:
732_10gh-More-Cool-Rocks_20150403_IMG_5046.jpg

and here, at 10h, a small beach seems to serve as a car park for locals’ longtails:
735_10h-Locals-Carpark_20150403_IMG_5040GT.jpg

During the last stretch, heading in towards Mamas Resort (if your mama is Donald Trump!) the coral was pretty scummy:
737_10hi-Scummy-Corals_20150403_IMG_5032.jpg 739_10hi-Scummy-Corals_20150403_IMG_5026.jpg
The water was none-too-clean either. Don’t linger!

The stretch of beach from 10i back to Ton Sai jetty (1a) is fine for sitting-out, but there are way too many boats coming and going for it to be suitable for snorkelling.

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Well that’s it for the snorkelling – about 15km of coastline covered!

I’ll let you draw your own conclusions. But if you do come to Phi Phi, then certainly head to Shark Point and the East coast for your bestest off-the-beach snorkelling.

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Walking tracks

If you want to get yourself around the island without shelling-out on expensive water taxis, there are plenty of walking tracks.

Some wide:
805_WT-General-Wide-Track_20150401_IMG_4776GT.jpg

Some not so wide:
806_WT-General-Thin-Track_20150404_IMG_5161.jpg

The tracks on my map are pretty accurate. I walked all of them (except the ones down to Toh Ko and Ran Tii beaches):
807_WT-Map-All-Walking-Tracks-1-3a.jpg
These are the main ones, but there will also be other, smaller ones, here-and-there.

The map should be mostly self-explanatory, but here are a few tips on finding your way around:

The free way:
For most long-distance journeys, you will have to climb up and over the Viewpoint. The main track from Ton Sai to Viewpoints 1 and 2 starts at the North East corner of town (at Junction 0 (J0) on my map). Climb up a steep set of concrete steps opposite the Garden Inn Resort.

You have to pay to get into (or pass through) Viewpoint 2. At time of writing, the charge was a nominal 30B. You get a ticket/receipt which is valid for the whole day so hold onto it (and keep it dry!) if you want to walk back later.

If you want to travel cash-free, you can avoid the pay-wall by instead starting at the walking street behind Lo Dalam beach. Follow it East, over the stinky creek, past Junction 2 (J2), up along the steep road between all the resorts, then when you run out of resorts (at Dusit Bungalows) continue along that same track, following the power lines. You’ll come to a 90 degree left turn where you turn left to continue following the power lines up a steep, wide track. When you see a scrappy locals house (which is also the Reception to a non-existent resort) and a blue sign pointing right, saying “PP Viewpoint”:
808_WT-Jx-Paypoint-North_20150402_IMG_5009.jpg
GPS: 7° 44′ 48.174,98° 46′ 39.12
… you have reached the pay-point (marked $ on my map). Don’t turn right and don’t pay (even if they ask you to), just continue straight on (which is free), following the power lines up another 30m of hill, then back down the other side of that 30m hill.

Congratulations, now you are past (=East of) the Viewpoint (VP2). From here, you can see the telephone tower at Viewpoint 3. You can either head up the hill towards it to get to J3/J4 and the Northern beaches; or turn right to get to Junction 1 for the South-Eastern beaches.

Here’s that free track, marked in red:
809_WT-Map-Freeway-1-3b.jpg

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Everything else about the walking tracks should become obvious if you can find and recognise the key junctions J1-5.

Here they are:
810_WT-Map-Central-Walking-Tracks-1-3b.jpg

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Junction 1 (J1) – From the wide, mid-island, North-South track, at Junction 1, a little track runs down to Toh Ko and Ran Tii beaches.
302_5-Its-a-Siiign_20150401_IMG_4774GT.jpg
GPS: 7° 44′ 42.732″,98° 46′ 46.332″
Comment: There is a sign nearby for restaurant “Phi Phi Cowboy Hill”. Also, this map is posted nearby.

Junction 2 (J2) – East End of Ton Sai Town
812_WT-J2-Sign_20150404_IMG_5381.jpg
GPS: 7° 44′ 41.034,98° 46′ 26.592 GPS 5017 on the 2nd
Comment: Near the stinky creek that runs into the sea and near to Phi Phi Viewpoint Resort/Restaurant

Junction 3 (J3) – Marked “Jungle House” on my map, there is a stall here selling drinks to thirsty climbers.
814_WT-J3-Stall_20150402_IMG_4996.jpg
GPS: 7° 44′ 51.69,98° 46′ 46.902 (2nd 4995)
Comment: Under a tin-roofed awning nearby, these maps are on display: 2 3

Junction 4 (J4) – From (near) Viewpoint 3 to the Northern beaches
819_WT-J4-Signpost-to-the-North_20150404_IMG_5153GT.jpg
GPS: 7° 44′ 57.324,98° 46′ 47.382
Comment: On the signpost, “Ao Lam Tong Bay” is the same place as what I have called “Haat Laem Thong”.

Junction 5 (J5) – The low road from Lo Laana to Lo Dalam
Coming at it from the Lo Laana end, the approach looks like this:
821_WT-J5-Low-Road-to-Tonsai-Junction_20150408_IMG_6027.jpg
GPS: 7° 45′ 25.704,98° 46′ 11.904
The white sign says: “3 Ton Sai Bay right (60 minutes walk); PP Island Village down” (i.e. where you have come from);
The Green sign says: Ton Sai Bay Viewpoint up; Ton Sai Bay right.

Our track to the right (Ton Sai town) follows some coaxial TV cables (presumably linking PP Island Resort to a satellite dish somewhere).
823_WT-J5-Low-Road-to-Tonsai-Track_20150408_IMG_6040.jpg
This track eventually tips-out at some rocks near 7h (approx GPS: 7.752287, 98.771105 ). At low tides, you can then walk along the rocks and sand from 7h to Ton Sai town. At high tides, you can’t.

The track J57h is fairly hilly, but less-so than the main track, J5J4.

Those trail maps again: 1 2 3 4

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Viewpoints:

Viewpoint 1 (VP1) is the halfway-up-the-stairs, lightweight version of the “main” viewpoint, VP2.

VP2 is the place to be at sunset. The world and his girlfriend are there.

VP3 is higher, less busy and has better views than VP2. And its free to get in. On the downside, after dark, it is difficult to walk back down from.

VP1, 2 and 3 all look West, over Ton Sai, the sandy spit and Ko Nork, the Western island.

The names: “Viewpoint 1, 2 and 3” seem to be universally accepted as the way of identifying those viewpoints.

Viewpoint 3 is also known as “Top Viewpoint”

“Viewpoint 4” looks East towards the sunrise. The name seems to be a punt by the chancers who set up a drinks-stand there.

The names “Junction 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5” are made up by me, to refer to points on my map. No-one outside of this web-page will know what you are talking about if you mention these.

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Up top:

Accommodation:

There is already piles and piles of information out there about Phi Phi accommodation. Try finding something other than hotel booking sites in your internet search results.

Travelfish have a very informative guide, which is also downloadable as a 1.5MB pdf.

The venerable Tezza also gives an extensive coverage.

Just a couple of tips for cheapskates:

I stayed in Ton Sai because it is the cheapest place. Actually, its still not that cheap compared to other islands in Thailand. The rock-bottom option seems to be “The Rock” backpackers, with fan dorms for about 300THB in dry-season. These have lockers big enough for a smartphone or wallet, but not a laptop. Mostly, the other dorms on Phi Phi are air-con and more like 600THB.

In Ton Sai, there is no escaping the noise of dance music from the clubs on the beach. You could try the North-East corner of town (near the dam), but I doubt it would help much. The clubs are on the beach at Ao Lo Dalam (near 7j). To be fair, they would turn the volume down at 2am, but I’m not sure whether that is always the norm.

Here are some detailed maps of Ton Sai town (correct in 2015): 1 2

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The other cheapskate option is Green Beach (Dorm) and Camping in Ao Lo Laana at Area 7 (more details up the page, in section 7).

Mu Ko Phi Phi is a Marine National Park, but there are no Ranger Stations or National Park accommodation on Phi Phi Don.

If you have money to throw around, there are plenty of options for nice resorts on the South and East coasts.

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There are ATMs in Ton Sai, but nowhere else.

There is no road transport (except golf-cart taxis at the luxury resorts).

There are tons of dive shops. I didn’t try the diving, but the marketing videos looked nice. Prices are regulated and should be the same across all dive shops.

There are ferries from Lanta, Krabi and Phuket.

Dry season is November to April.

THB means Thai Baht.

Some other useful linkies: 1 2 3 4 5

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Alternative Maps:
1-Phi Phi Don map from National Park HQ Map
2-Lo Baakao Area signpost map
3-Tonsai 1
4-Tonsai 2
5-TAT
6-National Park Krabi Haat Nopparatthara and Mu Ko Phi Phi (in Thai)

Those trail maps again: 1 2 3

Those Laem Por tracks again: 1 2

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Originally written: July 2015   . . . . .  Last updated: November 2015

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Indonesia_Wakatobi

Wakatobi National Park, Sulawesi, Indonesia

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IN BRIEF :

Wakatobi Marine National Park is an archipelago of islands off the South East corner of Sulawesi in Indonesia. It has four largeish islands (~20km long), plus numerous smaller ones. It is sometimes known by its former name – ‘the Tukangbesi Islands’.

Wakatobi is great for reef-fish. The area is famous for its diversity and I saw several species that I haven’t found anywhere else. The fish are usually present in good numbers. Sometimes, the old “like swimming in an aquarium” cliché applies. Don’t expect to see any big stuff (sharks, etc.), though.

The soft-coral is awesome in places, but most of the hard-coral in snorkelling depths is dead.

Wakatobi is known more as a diving destination than a snorkelling one, but there is some good snorkelling if you know where to look.

Except on Hoga Island and at one super-expensive resort near Tomia, you won’t find anywhere where you can just roll out of bed and float out to the reef. Most places, you will have to get on a motorbike (/taxi) and drive 10km to reach that choice snorkelling spot.

Wakatobi is a remote area without much international-tourist infrastructure. Bring lots of time & patience; a sense of adventure and a few language skills.

Sleeps:
At the luxury end of the market, there is one exclusive, super-expensive resort hidden away in a remote corner. We’re talking 3000+ USD for a (minimum) stay of 5 days. It boasts its own airstrip! Fancy.
Mid-range: There are a couple of resorts in the 50-100 USD price range.
Low-end: It is perfectly feasible to visit Wakatobi on a tight-budget – there are many options for local-style (=cheap) transport, food and accommodation.

006_General_Maps-Wakatobi.jpg
All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions.

Here is a sketch of the main five islands:

Wanci (aka Island 1 or ‘Wangi Wangi’)
Pronounced ‘wan-chee’, Wanci is the entry-island for the archipelago. Most people just pass through on the way to Hoga, but Wanci has some good soft-coral and fish on the North West corner, about 8km out of town. There are plenty of places to sleep in the main town; and the ferries to the other islands depart from here.

Kaledupa (aka Island 2)
Large and very remote – this island is mainly used by travellers as a (necessary) stop on the way to the more popular Hoga Island. There are a few local homestays on Kaledupa, but otherwise there is no tourist infrastructure. I’m told that the underwater visibility is poor. I didn’t really check out Kaledupa much.

Hoga
Located off the North East coast of Kaledupa, Hoga is the main destination for travellers. It has a beautiful, long, sandy beach and a few resorts and homestays – making it one of the few places where you can roll out of bed and onto the beach. About 150m off the beach, there is a drop-off with some good soft-coral and fish-life. Nearly all of the hard-coral is dead. There is a research/field station here and from May-September the island is over-run with European university students.

Tomia (aka Island 3)
The best ‘off-the-beach’ coral that I saw in Wakatobi was in Tomia – about 3km from the main town. There are guesthouses and homestays in the towns, but no resorts – you will need to rent a motorbike (/taxi) to get to the beaches and snorkelling spots. It is also possible to charter a boat for a 30 minute journey to some fantastic (world-class) offshore reefs. The super-expensive Wakatobi Dive Resort is located on a small island nearby.

Binongko (aka Island 4)
The last island in the chain is remote and rarely visited. There may be one or two homestays there. I didn’t go to this island.

Season:
I visited Wakatobi in August, which, despite being the dry season in the rest of Sulawesi, is not the best time for weather in the Wakatobi Islands. There was no rain, but wind and waves can make ferry journeys precarious and waves breaking on the reef-tops turn some spots into no-go areas for snorkelling. Underwater visibility ranged from good to appalling (15m to 3m) and I found the water a bit cold. Apparently, sea conditions are better in October/November and June/July.

Conditions:
Most snorkelling spots require a long wade/paddle through grassy shallows before you get out to the reef so take something solid to wear on your feet and try not to damage the wildlife. Currents weren’t much of a problem. See my page on safety for more general tips.

Transport:
There are daily ferries to Wanci from Kendari and Bau Bau in South East Sulawesi. Apparently, there are no speedboat ferries on that route any more, you’ll have to take the slow-boat. There are also slow ferries from Bau Bau to Kaledupa. There are daily flights Makkasar-Kendari-Wanci with Lion Air (Wings Air).

Public transport between Wakatobi’s islands is on small (~15 metre) wooden ferries. There are typically one or two sailings per day. Speedboat ferries weren’t operating when I visited.

Best-ish seascape:
820_Tomia-04_Reef_P8120089_P1018614.jpg

Typical seascape:
It is difficult to select a ‘typical’ picture for Wakatobi. You will want to head for the best spots. If you just jumped onto the reef at a random spot, it might look like this.
All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions.

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IN NOT-SO-BRIEF:

006_General_Maps-Wakatobi.jpg
All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions

A: Orientation

Topside:

Wakatobi used to be called the Tukangbesi Islands. Then, in 2002, much of the area was declared a National Park, which was named Wakatobi. The word “Wakatobi” is just the first two letters of the four big islands:
Wa nci
Ka ledupa
To mia
Bi nongko . . . .clever, huh?

The delineation of the National Park is shown on this map.

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The traveller’s lifestyle:
The main attraction of the islands is the beautiful natural surroundings. Up top, you have lush greenery and some picture-postcard, palm-fringed white-sand beaches:
023_General_Hoga-Beach_P8170108_P1018631.JPG

Below the waves, there is a vast diversity of reef-fish and a multitude of colourful soft-corals swaying in the, err, breeze.

However, despite the holiday-brochure looks, there aren’t many tourists around. Apart from a handful of mid-to-high-end diving resorts, there isn’t much foreign-tourist infrastructure. Wakatobi has an indigenous population of ~100,000. They are occupied by fishing & farming, not tourism.

Travel will be local-style. If you are used to travelling in Indonesia, this isn’t a big deal. But if you are new to the country, you should find-out what that means before coming. It means that it will be difficult to find where that ferry leaves from, or when it leaves, or whether it is running at all today. There aren’t helpful signposts or timetables around, because the locals who use the boats have been doing it all of their lives. It is unlikely that anyone around will speak English.

If you do manage to find a ferry, you might have to sit on the floor for the whole four-hour journey. As the boat departs, get ready to be doused by big waves as they splash in through the open windows of the rocking tub. As you strap-hang your way to the hole-in-the-floor toilet, be careful to side-step the patches of sea-sick on the floor, as they can be very slippery.

As you approach your paradise island, you might have to climb over the side of the ferry to make a mid-sea transfer into a local-boat the size of a bathtub. Your bathtub then splutters across the shallow waters to get you to dry land. Well, almost to dry land – you might have to get out and push it the last 30 metres, because the shallow waters were too shallow for it to float all the way to that wooden ladder leading up to the sidewalk.

At least when you get to your guesthouse you will be able to take a nice refreshing shower, eh? Well, maybe not. You might find that there is no water until 6pm when the island electricity comes on and pumps the ground water up to the overhead tanks. When the water does come on, you might find that your ‘shower’ is comprised of you ladling out plastic scoopfuls of water from a bucket and tipping it over your head. And that the soap doesn’t really work, because the water comes from a well which is a mix of fresh and salt water.

Still, at least you can relax and have a cold beer, eh? Well, probably not. The area is 99% Muslim and, apart from at a few resorts used by foreigners, you probably won’t find any alcohol on sale. And don’t be thinking you’ll be wearing that bikini on the beach – you’ll need to cover-up to respect local sensibilities if there is anyone around.

All this is pretty common stuff when travelling remote spots in developing countries. It’s not a big deal and you get used to it. If you are happy with a squat toilet, then you’ll be fine, but I met several people who had arrived in Wakatobi expecting it to be Paris-on-sea. They were quite freaked-out by the lifestyle there. If you need your home-comforts, it might be better to stay in Bali.

Talking about Bali – the super-expensive resort in Wakatobi has private charter flights direct from Bali to its own airstrip in Wakatobi. Their guests (i.e. people with $1000 a day to throw around), can bypass all the hassles of the real world. They can even opt for the personal ‘butler’ service to save making that troublesome walk from the bed to the minibar! Those of us not on a movie-star incomes will need to be ready for the character-building experience of using the same facilities as the locals.

Still reading? Well, alright, then.

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Access to the snorkelling:
About 70% of Wakatobi’s coastline is cliffs. The good snorkelling spots are as much defined by the ability to get to the spot as it is by the state of the coral there. Except in Hoga, you will need to use road transport to reach sections of coastline where you can actually get into the sea.

Road transport probably means renting a motorbike. This may be an enterprising local’s own machine and might not be in the best condition. Alternatively, you can usually find an ojek (motorcycle taxi) in the towns, but be clear about making arrangements with the driver if you are day-tripping to a remote beach and want picking-up again later on. Your driver won’t speak English.

Sedan taxis and car rentals do exist, but seem to be pretty rare. I didn’t see anywhere where you could rent a (pedal) bike.

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Here are a few Indonesian words used in the text:
Bajo – an ethnic group of seafarers who live in houses built on stilts suspended over the sea
Dermaga / pangkalan / pelabuhan – jetty / port
Desa – small village (abbreviated to D. on maps)
Jalan/ Jln. – Road
Mandi – ‘Shower’ – actually a concrete reservoir that you scoop water out of to shower with (and sometimes flush the toilet with)
Ojek – motorbike taxi
Kampung – village (abbreviated to K. on maps)
Penginapan/ Losmen/ Wisma – guesthouse or low-end hotel
Pantai- beach
Pulau – island (abbreviated to P. on maps)
Warung – local restaurant
It would be wise to learn some basic Indonesian before you arrive – please, thankyou, numbers, hours, days, “where-is” – that sort of thing : Some linkies: 1 2 3

IDR means Indonesian Rupiah. USD means US Dollars.

That’s about enough top-side orientation for now. In the detailed sections below, I’ve gone into a lot of detail about transport and logistics, coz Wakatobi isn’t covered very well in the travel books.

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Underwater Orientation:

Detailed descriptions of the snorkelling spots are given down the page, but here are a few general points:

031_General_Hoga-satellite-alt-jpg.JPG

Back Reef:
You can see from satellite pictures that each island is surrounded by a fringing reef, with a drop-off some 30-150 metres away from the coast (The drop-off is at the border between the light-blue and dark blue areas on the satellite picture). The areas of snorkelling interest are (1) the reef-top in the last ten metres closest to the drop-off; and (2) the drop-off itself. To reach the interesting parts, you usually have to get across ~40 meters of sandy/grassy shallows. At higher tides, you can snorkel through the shallows (it is always better for you and the environment if you get horizontal as soon as possible). But, at lower tides, it may be too shallow and you might have to walk across (you will need something solid on your feet); or wait for the next high-tide.

032_General_Tomia-Hi-Tide2_P8120254_P1018799.jpg032_General_Tomia-Low-Tide_P8120254_P1018799.jpg
High tide and low tide in Tomia.

Note that there might be undesirables (like spiny Sea-Urchins, Sting-Rays or Scorpionfish) lurking in the shallows.

Hard-corals:
Given all the hyperbole I had read beforehand, I was expecting more from the corals. Most hard-corals I saw were dead – presumably from earlier dynamite-fishing or climatic trauma.

Soft-corals:
The soft-corals are the stars of the show. There are many colourful and diverse species to be found. In those spots where they all occur together, there is a veritable firework display of frondy arms waving about.

Fish:
The fishies are a big attraction. Wakatobi is famous for its species diversity and any dive resort web-site will tell you exactly how many hundreds of fish species there are.

You can expect to see everything from my East Indonesia Common Fish page, plus many more besides.

A few species (Indian Triggerfish, Redtoothed Triggerfish, Pyramid Butterflyfish) are usually found in large schools, but, in other cases, you will be looking at one-or-two specimens from each of many species of fish, rather than lots of fish of the same species.

There are lots of fish pictures in-line down the page, but worthy of special mention here are the Bicolor Angelfish; the Keyhole Angelfish and the Yellow-eye Filefish :

Angelfish_Bicolour-Angelfish_Centropyge-bicolor_P8150018_P1018546.jpg Angelfish_Keyhole-Angelfish_Centropyge-tibicen_P1018569.jpg Filefish_Yelloweye-Filefish_Cantherhines-dumerilii_P8150179_P1018588.jpg

I found that the fish were a bit nervous. I guess that the National Park has not been established for very long and the fish are still used to running for their lives when splashy people show-up. Locals are still allowed to fish in the Park and a wander around the markets will reveal many fish who weren’t quite nervous enough.

Big stuff:
In two weeks’ snorkelling I only saw two turtles. No sharks. No dolphins, mantas or yetis. The local markets are full of tuna (some of them the size of a car!), but the biggest thing you are likely to find on the reefs is the occasional Bumphead Parrotfish, Bluefin Trevally, Humpback Unicornfish or some of the bigger Angelfish like the Six-Banded, Blue-Girdled, Yellowmask or Regal. (note: these are library pictures from my specieslist and weren’t taken in Wakatobi).

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Btw, my camera had a stroke in Wakatobi. I couldn’t use the zoom or bump-up the resolution beyond 3 megapixels. Consequently, Wakatoban close-ups (mostly maps and fish) are unusually grainy. Sorry ’bout dat. It could have been worse, I guess.

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Areas covered:
The areas I snorkelled at are marked by the burgundy lines on the maps below. The islands are quite big and there is no way I could cover all of the coastline, so I took the approach of asking locals about the best snorkelling spots and starting with those. I also dipped-into as many other ‘random sample’ spots as I could.

I had hoped to cover more, but the combination of distances, cliffs, tide and surf made this difficult. I think I have got most of the main spots covered.

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All right, that’s enough preamble. On with the details.

If you want to go direct to a particular section, you can do a local search {Edit>Find (on this page)} on one of these textstrings:

C: Kaledupa Island / Pulau Kaledupa / Island 2
D: Hoga Island / Pulau Hoga
E: Tomia Island / Pulau Tomia / Island 3
F: Tomia Environs
G: Binongko Island / Pulau Binongko / Island 4
H: Other places

Otherwise, just read-on:
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B: Wanci Island / Pulau Wanci / Island 1 / Pulau Wangi Wangi

You mostly see this island labelled as ‘Wangi Wangi’. Officially, the island is named “Wangi Wangi” and the capital ‘city’ is named Wanci (pronounced ‘wan-chee’). However, it seems that anyone under the age of fifty calls the whole island Wanci, so I’m doing the same.

Wanci is the entry-point to Wakatobi National Park. Most people just pass through on the way to Hoga, but if you have the time, Wanci has some good soft-coral and fish on the North West corner, about 8km out of town.

There are plenty of sleeps in the main town and all the ferries to the other islands depart from Wanci.

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Indo_Wakatobi_049_Wanci-Island_MAP-MAIN.jpg
All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions.

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If you ask the locals where the snorkelling is, they will point you towards Area 2b/2c– the jetty near Sombu. If you are in a hurry while reading this, just skip forward to that part.

I rented a motorbike and also dipped-in to a few other spots around the Northern half of the island.

Wanci town has a grid layout with three or four main streets running parallel to the coast. To get on the Northern coast road, pick the main one (the biggest one, nearest to the sea) and just keep going North. As you leave Wanci town, check your mileometer as you pass the big mosque with the blue and white dome (G4 on the town map below).

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Wanci Area 1

I stopped first at Area 1 – about 7 km North of town. It was a mostly random selection, but this spot has easy access to the sea via some waste ground between the houses (mostly, the coastline is occupied by peoples’ houses, so you would have to drive/park in their garden to get to the sea).

For the first of many times that day I changed my Mr Benn outfit from motorbiking-guy to snorkelling-guy and launched myself into the water.

After passing the little floating house:
051_Wanci-01_Houseboat_P8090017_P1018539.jpg
..it was a tedious 80m swim over sandy / weedy bottom to reach the reef.
052 BETTER P8210022_P1010035.jpg
There is a lot of this in Wakatobi.

Approaching the drop-off, the sea-bed starts to show some coral growth.
054_Wanci-01_Start-of-dropoff_P8090013_P1018535.jpg

And, at the drop-off, it becomes a more grown-up version:
056_Wanci-01_Dropoff_P8090012_P1018534.jpg
Note that the fish scooting away, mid-frame, is a Mimic Surgeonfish (Acanthurus pyroferus).

Overall, Area 1 had OK, but not spectacular corals. It won some extra kudos points by providing my first sight of the delightful Bicolor Angelfish (Centropyge bicolor):
057_Wanci-01_Bicolour-Angelfish_P8090011_P1018533.jpg

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Wanci Area 2 – Sombu

The main event for the snorkelling on Wanci Island is near the jetty at Sombu village.

059_Wanci-02_Sohal-Jetty_P8210010_P1010023.jpg
The jetty is inside the grounds of an abandoned ice factory. They would store the ice there and use the long jetty to load it onto fishing boats (for preserving the catch while still at sea).

There is a ladder from the jetty into the water, making this easy access – you don’t have to slog across the shallows at low tides.

The snorkelling is very good here. It isn’t quite the best spot that I found in the Wakatobi Islands, but it is not far-short of it.

The best part of Area 2 is about 150m South of the jetty, but the drop-off and the soft-coral is pretty decent for 500m+ in either direction.

061_Wanci-02_Satellite_Area2-Satellite.psd

I went back a couple of times and checked-out the whole 2km stretch around the jetty. These pictures start from a point 1 km South of the jetty (accessed via a track down to a graveyard at the North end of Sombu village – 2a on the satellite picture). There is an idyllic looking beach here. The reef is about 40m away from the beach, so you start with the usual plod through the grassy shallows.

About 30m out, the reef starts off modestly:
064_Wanci-02a_Near-drop-off_P8090025_P1018548.jpg

A little further out, the drop-off starts. There is a nice mix of hard and soft-corals here:
067_Wanci-02a_Start-of-Dropoff-_P8090029_P1018552.jpg

Soft-coral is the main feature in the Wakatobi Islands – there is a good, colourful selection here, heading North from 2a:
069_Wanci-02a_Coral_P8090030_P1018553.jpg 071_Wanci-02a_Coral_P8090033_P1018556.jpg

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072_Wanci-02a_Trap_P8090034_P1018557.jpg
I’m not sure who is winning the ‘conservation’ battle here !

Continuing North, there is some lovely coral:
073_Wanci-02a_Coral_P8090035_P1018558.jpg 076_Wanci-02a_Coral_P8090038_P1018560_.jpg

078_Wanci-02a_Hard-and-Soft-Coral_P8090042_P1018563_.jpg

The drop-off varies between steep-slope and vertical wall. In both cases, there is good coral (mostly soft-corals) in a depth of 1-3 metres. As you get deeper, the soft-corals thin out and the wall is comprised of (mostly dead) hard-corals:

081_Wanci-02a_Deeper-Coral_P8090048_P1018569.jpg

This is looking straight down the drop-off into the depths:
083_Wanci-02a_Depths_P8090057_P1018578.jpg

You don’t really need to dive-down to see good coral here – the best stuff is in the first few metres. If you want to go deeper, there is the occasional spot of sea fan/sponge down there.

There are lots of fishies about. One of the most fun sights in Wakatobi is the big schools of Indian Triggerfish, nervously scooting off into the depths as you approach:
086_Wanci-02a_Indian-Triggerfish_P8090054_P1018574.jpg

Here are some Lyretail Anthias, hanging around the steep wall:
087_Wanci-02a_Anthias_P8090047_P1018568.jpg

And some Surgeonfish and Long-jawed Mackerel, skulking around in the depths:
090_Wanci-02b_Schooling-Surgeonfish_P8090063_P1018584.jpg 088_Wanci-02a_Longjawed-Mackerel_P8090050_P1018570_.jpg

An uncommon sighting is the Clown Triggerfish:
091_Wanci-02b_Clown-Triggerfish_P8090061_P1018582.jpg
..hanging out here with a Moorish idol and a Longnose Butterflyfish.

There are a few nasty Crown of Thorns Starfish around. This one has left the white skeleton of the unlucky piece of coral he has just feasted on:
092_Wanci-02b_Crown-of-Thorns-happymeal_P8090065_P1018586.jpg
Although pretty nasty to individual corals, Crown of Thorns starfish aren’t a significant threat to the reef if they occur in small numbers. There weren’t enough of them here to pose much of a problem.

At about this point, I saw a small turtle, speeding-off from the reef-top towards the safety of the deep water. This was one of only two turtles I saw while snorkelling in Wakatobi.

Continuing North and past the little headland dividing two beaches at 2b , there are some more hard-corals:
094_Wanci-02b_Hard-Coral_P8090060_P1018581.jpg 095_Wanci-02b_Hard-Coral_P8090064_P1018585.jpg

And soft:
096_Wanci-02b_Soft-Coral_P8090073_P1018593.jpg 097_Wanci-02b_Soft-Coral_P8090074_P1018594.jpg

The deeper waters on the drop-off still have cruddy hard-corals:
099_Wanci-02b_Dropoff_P8090076_P1018596.jpg

I think that this little stretch, just North of 2b is probably the best bit of snorkelling on Wanci Island. It has a lovely range of colours in the soft-coral and a nice mix of hard and soft stuff:
100_Wanci-02b_Bestbit-Coral_P8090080_P1018599_.jpg
101_Wanci-02b_Bestbit-Coral_P8090083_P1018602.jpg 102_Wanci-02b_Bestbit-Coral_P8090084_P1018603.jpg 103_Wanci-02b_Bestbit-Coral_P8090086_P1018605.jpg

This area is about 150m South of the jetty (turn left as you face the sea), so isn’t too hard to reach from there.

As you continue North (approaching the jetty) things go a bit patchy – sometimes good:
106_Wanci-02b_Soft-Coral-approaching-jetty_P8090088_P1018607.jpg

And sometimes bad:
107_Wanci-02b_approaching-jetty_P8090089_P1018608.jpg

The area right next to the jetty is nothing special.
109_Wanci-02b_ underwater jettypic_P8090091_P1018610.jpg

We are at the jetty itself now, and heading North/right. The Northern end isn’t quite as attractive as the South, but still has its moments.

Entering the water here, you swim across 20m of shallows before getting to the drop-off:
111_Wanci-02c_Jetty-North-shallows_P8090116_P1018635.jpg

There are some attractive small fish here and some juvenile versions of the bigger reef fish.
112_Wanci-02c_Jetty-North-shallows_P8090122_P1018641.jpg

I like the face makeup on these cute Gold Head Sleeper Gobies:
113_Wanci-02c_Goldhead-Sleeper-Goby_P8090119_P1018638.jpg

Close to the drop-off, the coral starts getting denser:
115_Wanci-02c_Approaching-dropoff_P8090102_P1018621.jpg 116_Wanci-02c_Dropoff_P8090093_P1018612.jpg

Red-tooth triggerfish take on the role of the local mass-schoolers:
120_Wanci-02c_Red-tooth-triggerfish_P8090113_P1018632.jpg 119_Wanci-02c_Schoolers_P8090098_P1018617.jpg

There were also a few of their big cousins, the Yellowmargin:
122_Wanci-02c_Yellowmargin-Triggerfish_P8090096_P1018615.jpg

Emperors hang around in the blue, cautiously watching from a safe distance. They were too far away for photos, but here are some of their unfortunate cousins in the night market.

Similar to the more Southerly stretches of Area 2, the reef-edge here fluctuates between sloping wall and steep drop-off. Here’s the view of the steeper bits, with soft and hard-corals:
125_Wanci-02c_Softcoral-on-Wall_P8090107_P1018626.jpg 126_Wanci-02c_Tablecoral-on-Wall_P8090106_P1018625.jpg
Table Corals are one of the more sensitive species of corals. The locals get very excited about areas where there is living Table Coral.

Continuing North, the soft-coral continues. Sometimes good:
129_Wanci-02c_Good-Coral_P8090114_P1018633.jpg

Sometimes not so good:
130_Wanci-02c_Patchy-Coral_P8090115_P1018634.jpg
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Area 2c:
Continuing on North past the low-cliffs of the coastline, there are plenty of corals:
133_Wanci-02d_Coral_P8080035_P1018557.jpg 134_Wanci-02d_Coral_P8080036_P1018558.jpg

Indian Triggerfish are back to being the most proliferate schoolers:
137_Wanci-02d_Sponges-n-softies-n-Indian-Triggerfish_P8080041_P1018563.jpg

..and there are a few other interesting things to see, like these uncoiling Anemones:
138_Wanci-02d_Anemones_P8080047_P1018569.jpg

..and this chunky Sea-Krait/Snake:
139_Wanci-02d_Sea-krait_P8080042_P1018564.jpg
These are poisonous, but they are very chilled-out and are unlikely to even notice you, let alone hurt you. See my Safety page for a run down on ‘harmful’ critters.

We are about 150m North of the jetty now. Rounding the corner into area 2e, you can see beautiful Cemara beach coming into view.
143_Wanci-02e_Cemara-beach_P8090132_P1018651.jpg

There aren’t always heaps of fish around, but look closely:
145_Wanci-02e_Softcoral_P8080023_P1018545.jpg
I spot Longnose Butterflyfish, Bristletooth Surgeonfish, Yellowtail Damselfish, Phantom Butterflyfish, Whitebelly Damselfish, Sergeant Major damselfish, Twotone Dartfish

The Redtooth Triggerfish are fighting back against the Indians in the ‘biggest school’ derby:
146_Wanci-02e_Seafan-and-Redtooth-Triggerfish_P8080016_P1018538.jpg

Here are views from the top and 4 metres down a steep wall:
149_Wanci-02e_Shallower-dropoff_P8080031_P1018553.jpg 148_Wanci-02e_Deeper-dropoff_P8080029_P1018551.jpg

Continuing North, there are some more patches of lovely soft-corals:
151_Wanci-02e_Reeftop-_P8080013_P1018535.jpg

You can see from the satellite picture that there are big crescent shapes here that an ancient giant has bitten out the edge of the reef. The local name for these is “Ou”. To stay on the steep-ish drop-off, you have to slalom in and out, following the profile of these Ou. Or you can take the shorter route across the reeftop, but the coral isn’t too special there:
153_Wanci-02e_Shallows_P8080046_P1018568.jpg

I’m not entirely sure what formed these Ou. If you look on satellite pictures further around to the North East, the crescents are fully-enclosed ‘blue holes” with reef on both the landward and the seaward sides. It is possible that these were formed during an ancient time when the established reef became elevated above sea-level. Rainwater pooled at the lowest points of the exposed reef and started to seep through the porous limestone. The continuous pooling and escaping of fresh water would have slowly dissolved the calcium carbonate, leaving circular ‘wells’ in the limestone. Perhaps, here, there was also a weak/fault line in the exposed limestone which caused the entire outer edge to fall off. Subsequently, sea-levels rose again, submerging the remodelled reef and, eventually, coral-growth resumed. Maybe. Alternative hypotheses welcome.

Continuing past area 2e, you draw-level with Cemara beach. This is the first opportunity after the jetty to enter/exit the water. The Ous continue, so try to get out of the water at the middle of one, as this will give you a shortest route across the delicate reef-top to shore. Locals have erected a red flag in the shallows to indicate the easiest spot to get in/out of the water.

Road directions to Area 2:
The Sombu Ice Factory is easy to miss as you whiz along the Northern coast road. Do you remember that you looked at your mileometer as you passed the big mosque in Wanci? Well, the Ice Factory is 8.2km further on from that.

If you have one of the many rental motorbikes with the mileometer disconnected – look out for the yellow concrete ‘milestones’ at the side of the road which show the distances to the next and previous towns. The last marker before the Ice Factory is the 6km marker and the Ice Factory is about 1.5km further on from that.

Mostly, the ‘coast’ road is just a straight line heading North from Wanci; but be sure to follow the curve round to the left just after the 6km marker (near a small ornamental fountain). When I visited, they were building a junction and a new road, going straight-ahead. When it is finished, it might seem more intuitive to take this (wrong) option.

The Ice Factory is inside a low-walled complex and it has three or four white buildings with blue window frames. Lookout for this sight on the left. There is also a clue from the overhead power cables, which run parallel to the road on the right hand side. When you get to the Ice Factory, the cables have a spur crossing over the road to power the freezers.

There are two gates to the complex – the first one is permanently shut, but the second one is open. Ojek drivers will tell you that this second gate gets locked at 5pm, but I think that this is just a rouse so that they can get home in time for tea. It was still open when I rode past at dusk (6pm). Still – something to keep in mind.

You can park your motorbike on the seaward end of the jetty.

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Continuing North on the main coast-road – if you want to drive to Cemara beach or to the reef 400m North of the jetty (at Area 2e), then take a left off the main road at the bottom of the hill (near the ALFmart). There is a village road that runs close to the beach. You will probably have to go through someone’s garden to get to the sea.

From Area 2e, you can see another jetty in the distance. This looked intriguing and was my next stop.

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Wanci Area 3 – Waha

It seems like someone has tried to kick-start a diving industry here in Waha.
162_Wanci-03_Waha-welcome_P8090139_P1018658.jpg
I’m not sure what the status is. The intriguing looking jetty (“Wakatobi Diving Jetty”) is derelict, and things looked kinda quiet around there. But there were some diving tanks and new regulators in an open hut.

163_Wanci-03_WTC-posters-jpg.jpg

That last poster gives descriptions of the local dive spots:

1. Nua – This spot is called Nua because there is a small island separated from the land. Furthermore, it has various coral reef and in current seasons sharks appear around it.
2. Wambuliga – This diving spot is located near the ex-ice cube factory. In this spot there were been held underwater mass wedding. Coral reef and in current seasons sharks appear around it.
3. Watu Tofengka – The name is taken from the cracked rock near the beach. It has beautiful views and landscapes that can be enjoyed beside the diving and snorkeling
4. Kolo Watua – This spot has deep ocean morphology and curved bay. In the depth >20m there were found many kinds of coral reef and species of fish.
5. The amazing point of this spot is the Cockatoo fish that can be found in the depth more than 20m. However, tourists must be careful of the turbulances which are often happened here.
6. Toa Bantea – This diving spot is set about 150m from the beach. It has various admirable coral reefs as other spots have, but the unique point is many conserved Napoleon fish that can be found within.
7. Oguu Ulu-Ulu- This spot is placed in the conservation area of Daerah Perlindugan Laut (DPL). The unique point is seeing and interacting with green turtles here.
8. Untu Wa Ode – Divers often find exclusive coral reef which cannot be found in other sites. Therefore, it has been one of the sacred diving sites than others.
9. Unto Ndole-Ndole – The appearance of coral reef in Untu Ndole-ndole is dominated with the hollow shape or called ou. Many kinds of coral reef grow on the wall of the hollow shape corals. On the seashore, we can find a rock called Unto Ndole-Ndole.

I jumped in the water and had a look at the snorkelling there.

The visibility was awful.

There was some life around during the 70m plod out to the drop-off:
165_Wanci-03_Shallows_P8090148_P1018667.jpg

However, the steep drop-off was 90% dead:
166_Wanci-03_Wall_P8090150_P1018669.jpg

One nice Sea-fan was doing its best to keep spirits up:
167_Wanci-03_Wall_P8090152_P1018671.jpg

But, as far as I could see, this area is a non-starter. Well for snorkelling, at least.

Maybe everything is better at diving-depths. Try asking the manager, Mr Surdiman. No doubt he would be happy to give you the full SPs. According to the signs, his contact details are: Mr Surdiman 0852-4185 7674, wtcbeach_wktb@ymail.com (yes, that’s ymail (!))

The little beachside village road soon re-joins the main road and the main road moves inland for the next stretch.

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Wanci Area 4

In Area 4, the road is set far-back from the sea. There is the occasional side-track leading towards the coast, but they all stop at some cliff-top and you can’t get down to the water. Here’s a shot from a cliff-top around point 4:
169_Wanci-04_Clifftop-view_P8090159_P1018678.jpg

The tide was getting low, the sun was getting low and those breaking waves out on the distant reef were looking off-putting, so I put my fins away and called it a day.

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Wanci Area 5

The next day, I picked things up again at Area 5, just West of Waetuno Village. There was a cute fishing village there, with a handy, short jetty to park the bike on.
170_Wanci-05_Village_P8210017_P1010030.jpg

After a 80m plod across the grassy shallows:
171_Wanci-05_Grassy-Shallows_P8210022_P1010035.jpg

…I got to the drop-off:
172_Wanci-05_Dropoff_P8210020_P1010033.jpg
Oh dear. This used to be Staghorn Coral. Either monsoon seas or dynamite fishing had put an end to that. On to the next place.

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Wanci Area 6 – Patuno

Patuno is a long strip of town centred-around the Northern tip of the island. Of most interest to tourists will be Patuno Resort – the only true ‘beach resort’ on the island. 1km East from Patuno town, Patuno Resort is mid-high end with spacious wooden cabanas starting at 76 USD (plus meals). Patuno Resort 081 1400 2221, wakatobipatunoresort.com

As I turned-off the main road into the resort grounds, the old guy at the security gate gave me a friendly smile and lifted the barrier. Down the hill at the resort itself, I think they realised I was an interloper, but didn’t seem to mind as long as I parked in the car-park and not in front of reception.

Patuno Resort has a long stretch of decent beach and a little ‘sitting out’ jetty:
177_Wanci-06_Patuno-Resort-beach_P8210029_P1010043.jpg

This ‘jetty’ also housed the resort jet-ski, which seemed to be out-of-commission and being used as some kind of hi-so art installation:
178_Wanci-06_Patuno-Resort-sit-out-area_P8090174_P1018693.jpg

Hey, anything to keep the damn things out of the water.

There is a cool rock-formation at the edge of the shallows:
180_Wanci-06_Patuno-Rock_P8210030_P1010044.jpg
Don’t trip over the cables which run across the seabed. These provide electricity to two spotlights which illuminate the rock at night! I never saw it when it was lit-up. I guess it looks nice, (but probably not 76 USD nice!)

Snorkelling-wise, it was a real dilemma whether or not to get in the water. On the previous day, I had seen lots of white, breaking waves out on the reefs of the North coast. You should always be cautious about going in the water if you see breaking waves/ surf out near the reef-edge. Snorkelling, surf and coral do not mix. Snorkellers who are attached to their skin should stay away from the surf-zone if there is any chance of there being rocks or coral below the surface. If the gods of the sea decide that they are going to sandpaper you against some sharp coral, then that is what will happen. You can’t win (except by staying on dry land, that is).

The surf wasn’t very big at Patuno that day:
181_Wanci-06_Patuno-Resort-surf_P8210038_P1010052.jpg
…but it was enough to prompt much chin-stroking before getting in the water.

Eventually, I decided to take my life and my hands and forged through the breakers onto the drop-off.

The reef was mostly skanky:
183_Wanci-06_Skanky-dropoff_P8210049_P1010063.jpg

At a few spots, there were some patches of ‘Blue’ Coral (Heliopora coerulea):
184_Wanci-06_Blue-Coral_P8210048_P1010062.jpg 185_Wanci-06_Blue-Coral_P8210050_P1010064.jpg
I hadn’t noticed this elsewhere, but looking back at my pictures, the species is quite widespread in Wanci. It is just hidden –all mixed-in with all the other corals. As there aren’t any “all the other corals” here, you won’t have a problem finding it.

Patuno Resort has a dive centre, but looking at the condition of the local coral, I guess they take their guests elsewhere for the diving. Some folks I met on the plane who had booked at Patuno Resort were later seen renting motorbikes to get their snorkelling fix down at Sombu (Area 2).

The snorkelling at Patuno Resort did win some kudos points from an appearance by a small school of Convict Tang – a sight which I didn’t see anywhere else. Convict Tang (library picture).

Continuing along the North East coast, the road moves inland. Occasionally there is a little track to the left that leads down to a rustic beach. I think this one is called Mooli Sahatu Beach:
186_Wanci-06Plus_Mooli-Sahatu-Beach_P8210055_P1010069.jpg

Further along the coast, the breakers out on the drop-off still looked menacing:
187_Wanci-06Plus_NECoast_P8210066_P1010080.jpg

And again, at a later spot:
188_Wanci-06Plus_NECoast-village_P8210067_P1010081.jpg

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Wanci Area 7 – The little Islands near the airport

Satellite map:
193_Wanci-07__Area-7-Satellite-jpg.jpg
At 7a, the road forks. There isn’t a signpost, but the left turn goes under an archway and down Jalan Pantai Sousu (Sousu beach street). The ‘straight ahead’ option goes to the airport.

Some maps show a couple of small, intriguing-looking islands on this Eastern point of Wanci island.
191_Wanci-07_Airport-Islands_P8220015_P1010015_.jpg
I like my islands small, so these were a ‘must’ to investigate.

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There is a cute little village running along the beach, 7b to 7c.

After 7c, the road turns inland and the coastline changes from beach to cliff. Point 7c is still about 1km from the islands, but it is as close as you can get by road.

Well, technically, there are other options, but they are not very practical!

It is a fair hike from the beach to the islands. Here they are, looking from the beach at 7c:
195_Wanci-07c_South-Sousu_P8210070_P1010084_.jpg
Pulau Nuaponda is on the left/North and Pulau Matahora on the right.

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There is marshy beach along the bottom of the cliffs so, I schlooped along it from 7c to 7d, (about level with an interesting looking rock at 7e) and then headed-out to sea.

Heading out to sea, the first stretch is all soft sand and sea-grass. Then you get to a ‘blue hole’ of deeper water. This is mostly sandy bottom at about 7m depth.

I didn’t expect too much underwater scenery on this landward-side of the islands. Sure-enough, the few patches of corals there were unspectacular:
198_Wanci-07d_Coral_P8210077_P1010091.jpg 199_Wanci-07e_Coral-Oriental-Sweetlips_P8210078_P1010092.jpg

After 200m of swimming across the ‘blue hole’, the seabed came back up to greet me and it was back to walking again. Walk, Swim, Walk, Swim, Walk, Swim.

The strange rock at 7e was my quest – mainly because it was the home of what must be the bravest little palm tree in Indonesia:
201_Wanci-07e_Hardy-Palmtree_P8210083_P1010097.jpg
(That’s Nuaponda Island in the background).

Nuaponda Island has an (unspectacular) beach on its North side (7f).
202_Wanci-07f_N-Nuaponda_P8210088_P1010102.jpg

Going round to West side of the island, there is an intriguing looking construction at 7g:
203_Wanci-07g_NE-Nuaponda_P8210089_P1010103.jpg
I guess that this is some kind of pond for keeping caught fish in. There was nothing in it when I passed. It looked like a medieval fort.

Around on the West side, Nuaponda is a beautiful, naturalistic island. The coastline is all mangroves.
204_Wanci-07h_E-Nuaponda_P8210093_P1010107.jpg
There was a posse of large bats (flying foxes) all chirping in the top of the trees, top right.

Aside from a tiny beach at the South West end (7j), there isn’t any way to set-foot on this side of Nuaponda. This one is best appreciated from the water.

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There is a long, thin rock between Nuaponda and Matahora Islands. It doesn’t seem to qualify for a name. Here’s a shot of the coral on its West side (7j-7k).
206_Wanci-07jk_Coral_P8210098_P1010112.jpg

As you approach the beautiful Matahora Island, the coral has been flat-topped by the tidal height.
207_Wanci-07k_Coral_P8210136_P1010149.jpg
The coral heads in the water here do make it a little difficult to reach the island from this direction. It is easier to come-at-it from the Western (beachy) side.

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I think I’ve found the perfect desert island for my retirement. Look – they’ve even built a little hut for me:
208_Wanci-07k_Matahora-Island_P8210103_P1010117.jpg

Well, actually, it is the Governor’s hut. But it seems like he is not that interested. It is unmaintained inside and starting to fall apart.

Who wouldn’t want to stay here?:
210_Wanci-07k_Matahora-Island_P8210118_P1010131_composite.jpg
Gorgeous !

I had planned to get in the water on the East (seaward) side of the islands and swim along the drop-off from point 7m back down to 7e. I tried to get in the water at 7m, but the nasty surf breaking over the corals put an end to that:
211_Wanci-07k_Matahora-Island-Surf_P8220018_P1010017_.jpg
Being dragged around over sharp corals was not on the itinerary.

I was later told that the reef on the East side of these islands isn’t spectacular. Do let me know if you get there in calmer conditions and can check it out directly.

Instead of swimming down the East side of the little islands, I walked South through Matahora’s Eastern shallows, then cut through between the islands and swam back across the ‘blue lagoon’.

There is a fisherman’s house floating in the water at 7n:
213_Wanci-07n_House_P8210141_P1010154.jpg
Maybe I’ll move in there if the Governor doesn’t like me taking his holiday home.

As with the other blue hole at 7d-e, the bottom here was (a) deep, (b) plain sand. There was a bit of scrappy coral on the edge of the lagoon at 7o:
214_Wanci-07o_Coral_P8210143_P1010156.jpg

Oh, and I saw a nudibranch in the grassy shallows at 7p (one of only three nudis that I saw in Wakatobi):
215_Wanci-07p_Nudibranch-Phyllidia-varicosa_P8210145_P1010158.jpg
Phyllidia varicosa

Back on the cliff-top road, someone was building a swanky ‘resort’ at 7q. There will be a good view of the islands from this chalet, someday:
217_Wanci-07q_Development_P8210157_P1010171.jpg

I’m not sure whether the place is going to be a tourist resort, or a new (more comfortable?) holiday-home for the Governor, but whoever owns it doesn’t want the likes of you getting in:
218_Wanci-07q_Development_P8210158_P1010172.jpg

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Wanci Area 8 – South East of the airport

I continued on South, down the East side of the island, but there were nasty-looking breaking waves all the way down this coast. It didn’t look safe to get out to the drop-off (plus, the drop-off is a looong way away from the coast), so when I reached Melai 1 village, I turned right and took the cross-island road back to Wanci town.

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That’s all I had time for at Wanci Island. With 50+ km of coastline, it’s a big old island. And with reef-access limited to high tides; plus the scary August surf, that was all I could cover in the few days I had.

The Ice-factory jetty, near Sombu (Area 2) was undoubtedly the highlight of the snorkelling. But why don’t you try-out some other spots when the waves have subsided in November/December? Let me know how you get on.

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Wanci Admin/logistics:

Wanci town

Unless you are booked at the fancy Patumo Resort on the North East side of the island, you will be staying in Wanci town (or at least going there and then searching for a jetty/ferry terminal to get out again).

There’s very little English spoken in Wanci and it is quite difficult to find where island-boats depart from. Here is my attempt to make it easier:

Wanci Town Map
240_Wanci-Town_Town-map.jpg
All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions

“S” means places to sleep. “S” followed by a number means that I verified it still exists (in 2014). “S” without a number means I got the location off an old map and the place may or may-not still be in operation. “F” means food. All the other letters are referenced in the text below.

Here’s a printable version of the map.

Wanci Arrivals

Wanci town is on the West coast. If you are arriving by big-ferry from Bau Bau, you will arrive in the centre of things. From the big-boat jetty, it is about a 1km walk to the other (local) jetties and/or accommodation options. There will be plenty of ojeks (motorcycle taxis) touting for business when your boat arrives.

If you are coming by air, the airport is on the East side of the island and you will have to take a taxi/ojek the ~20km across the island to Wanci town. Taxi is 100 000 IDR. I paid 50 000 IDR for an informal ojek ride to one of the guys who works in the airport (he was going home anyway). His shortcut route started at the other end of the runway, so we screamed along the runway trying to reach take-off speed first. Which was nice.

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Wanci Sleeps

Contrary to what you have read in travel books, there are plenty of places to stay in Wakatobi and (particularly) in Wanci town. Here are some of them:

The main player in Wanci town seems to be the Hotel Wakatobi (S5 on the map), Jalan Ahmad Yani (0404) 21823. Prices (correct in 2014):
AC room on the 3rd floor, cold shower– 182 000 IDR
AC room on 1st/2nd floor, hot shower – 275 000 IDR
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . plus Minibar – 330 000 IDR

Next door (S4 on the map) is the (more upmarket) sister-hotel – Wisata Beach Hotel. Jl Jenderal Sudirman 0812 4563 9300. Prices:
AC room, LCD TV, Hot shower – 350 000 IDR
. . plus Widescreen LCD TV (gosh!) – 400 000 IDR
. . plus minibar 500 000 IDR
Despite the hotel’s name, it is not on a beach.

Being a cheapskate, I went for a more local option – The Penginapan Jelly (Jalan Samburaka No 77; S7 on the map) has comfortable but unspectacular fan rooms with private mandi from 80 000 IDR. There are no mozzie nets and the wall-fans are pathetic, so bring a net (good advice, generally, in Indonesia) or steal the free-standing fan from the hallway to keep the mozzies at bay. Price includes a light breakfast. I think that they also have cheaper rooms with shared mandi, and aircons for about 100 000 IDR.

Btw, “Penginapan” means low-end hotel and most of the sleeping-joints in Wanci are penginapans.

Similar to the Penginapan Jelly, and getting a reasonable write-up from travellers, is the Wisma Nirmala (S3). This is next to the jetty for big boats to Bau Bau (J3). Price is ~80 000 IDR for a room with a shared mandi.

Here are some other guesthouses that I noticed on my wanderings. They looked OK from the outside, but I didn’t investigate further:
S1 – Bajo Resort Jln Poros Liya Tel: 085 241 521 718 / 085 343 591 227
S2Hotel Al-Azizyah, Jln Poros Liya No. 5 Tel 0815 2472 7405 / 0812 4591 2744
S6 – Penginapan Ratna , 10 Jln Endapo 082196329894

The following places are in Wanci town. Details were sourced from a tourist leaflet I found in the airport):
Hotel Nur Rezki, Jln Jenderdal Surdiman, Pasar Malam (Night Market) 0404 21221
Hotel Fidel, Jln Jenderdal Surdiman, 0813 3076 6274
Wisma Maharani Jln Jenderdal Surdiman No.125, tel 0853 4166 4816
Hotel Nita Sari, Pasar Pagi (Morning Market) 0813 4176 2446
Wisma Ar Razaq, Jln Kontamale 0404 21285

These two were also in that leaflet but I’m not sure where they are located:
Hotel Lina, Endapo 0404 21691
Hotel 1000 Bulan, Lingkugan Ogu, Onelaro 0404 21019

Other sleeps marked on the map with just an “S” (i.e. without a number) are from listings on old maps. I didn’t check whether or not they are still operational (but I imagine they are – things change slowly in Wanci).

Note that it is highly unlikely that the staff in any of the above places will speak any English.

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Outside of Wanci town, Patuno Resort is on the North East coast of the island and is a pleasant beach resort. It is suitable for people who have 75 bucks a night to throw around. English is spoken here. Tel: 081 1400 2221.
wakatobipatunoresort.com/

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Wanci Eats

Places where I ate are marked “F” (for food) on the map. It can be difficult to find somewhere that’s open in the daytime, especially around prayer times. The little warung near to jetty J3 was usually a good bet. There are plenty of restaurants open in the evenings.

Note that Indonesians eat very small breakfasts. That ‘breakfast’ that’s included with your guesthouse stay will probably just be a slice of cake or half a fried banana, so it is an idea to squirrel-away something edible the night before.

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Wanci Local transport

In town, there are plenty of ojeks (motorbike taxis) cruising around. They will find you. If you can’t find one, try looking at the North East corner of the football field (G5).

There is a road that goes all around the island; plus a few roads that cross the middle of it. The island is fairly flat.

If you want freedom to explore, you’ll need to rent your own vehicle. Most people use motorbikes. It is a good idea to give some advance notice to your intended rental place, to avoid delays in finding a bike on the day. The bikes might not be in the best condition. Mine threw a chain. Hardly surprising as it turns out! Still, my repair bill was cheerfully refunded afterwards.

Petrol/gas/benzin is sold in 1 litre glass bottles by private households at the side of the road, price 10 000 IDR per litre (in 2014). Supplies often run low at the end of the day, so fill-up early. Wearing a motorcycle helmet is compulsory. Outside of town, road surfaces aren’t always great, so go easy.

Prices for a day’s motorbike rental:
Hotel Wakatobi (S5) 100 000 IDR
Little hut outside Wisata Beach Hotel (S4) 70 000IDR
Penginapan Jelly (S7) 50 000 IDR
Galaxy Rental (G2) 50 000 IDR

Galaxy Rental and Hotel Wakatobi also rent out regular (sedan) cars. Hotel Wakatobi’s price is 350 000 IDR.

Bicycles – a famous travel book says that Wanci is good for bicycling. I have no idea where they managed to find a bicycle for rent!

Bemos – out in the sticks, I saw one or two Bemos (local minibuses) scooting around. They seemed to be pretty infrequent. I’m not sure what the routes are. One for the brave.

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Wanci Ferries / jetties

You’ll need that town map again:

240_Wanci-Town_Town-map.jpg

At 2014, THERE IS NO DIRECT FERRY FROM WANCI TO HOGA. You have to go to Kaledupa first and get another boat from there. There seems to be lots of confusion on this point.

Generally, the situation with ferries from Wanci and their departure points is confusing and what is written in the travel books doesn’t help much.

With an island full of sea-farers, it is not surprising that there are dozens of jetties all up and down the coast of Wanci town. As a tourist, you only need to be concerned about two or three of them. Starting in the South:

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Jabal Jetty (J1)

Point J1 on the map is (supposedly) the public speedboat ferry terminal for speedboats to Tomia Island. It is said that these speedboats also call-in at Kaledupa on the way. This jetty is called Pelabuhan Jabal. (“Pelabuhan” means ‘jetty/harbour/port’, “Jabal” is the name of the location).

It is quite a hike here from the main ‘downtown’ area (G5) – about 2.5km. Look out for Hotel Al-Azizyah on the right. The turning down to the jetty is a tiny gravel road on the right (about 100m after the hotel). The overhead electricity cables to nearby Kapota Island go down here and also give a clue to location.

Why do I say that this is “supposedly” the speedboat ferry terminal? Well, I came down here for a wander one evening and there was certainly a speedboat ferry parked up at the jetty. However, when I came here to catch the boat a few days later, it wasn’t there and some local residents said that the boat wasn’t running that day. Also, the speedboats are supposed to go to Tomia Island, but I stayed in Tomia’s main port town, Waha, for four days and I never saw a single speedboat come or go. (Although it is possible that the speedboats use a different port-town in Tomia – Tongano Timur. I saw a couple of speedboat ferries parked-up there when I passed through).

So, I didn’t have any luck catching a boat from Jabal jetty. I can’t tell you for sure whether the speedboat ferries still run or whether-or-not they call-in on Kaledupa. Supposedly, they depart daily at about 8am, which at least gives you time to get to the slow-boat jetty for the “about 9am boat” if your speedboat turns-out not to exist.

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Mola Jetty (J2)

Slow ferries to Tomia and Kaledupa depart from Pelabuhan Mola (=Mola Jetty) (J2). If you are going to Hoga Island, you also will have to use this jetty to get to Kaledupa first.

The jetty (J2) is about 2km South from the main downtown area (G5). The jetty is set-back from the main road – it is buried at the far-end of the Bajo village. Heading South from downtown, look out for the open courtyard and the blue roofs of the central market (M2) on the right. In the mornings, the market is very busy so it is easy to find. About 150m after the market, look out for this archway on the right welcoming you to the Bajo Village. Turn right and pass underneath it, then just keep walking until you reach the sea. This is what the jetty looks like and, yes, those are the boats that are going to take to the islands:
253_Wanci-Town-J2_Mola-Bajo-boats-to-Kaledupa_P8070027_P1018576.jpg

Apparently, slow boats to Kaledupa leave about 8am and 1pm (and sometimes 5pm as well). Emphasis on the “about”. Time is very elastic in Wakatobi and it pays to get there early and wait patiently as long as it takes.

I took the slow boat to Tomia which leaves ‘about 9am’, and actually set-off at 9:30am.

Journey time was 3 hours to Kaledupa and another hour on to Tomia. My boat had padded mats to sleep on. There was a lot of rockin goin on that day. It wasn’t quite as life-threatening as some other people have experienced, but it was very uncomfortable and lots of people lost their breakfast.

It is 65km from Wanci to Tomia. It is further than you think, especially on such a, err, rustic, vessel.

Wanci-Tomia costs 120 000 IDR. Wanci – Kaledupa is 50 000 IDR. (Prices correct at 2014).

If you are going to Hoga, you will have to take a boat to Kaledupa, then find another boat to continue on to Hoga. There are two types of boat that go to Kaledupa from this jetty (J2) – one that terminates in Kaledupa; and another that just makes a stop at Kaledupa on the way to its main destination, Tomia. If you are going to Hoga you need to get to the East coast of Kaledupa first. Note that the Tomia boats drop you off on the ‘wrong’ (=West) side of Kaledupa. If you catch a Tomia boat from Wanci, you will have to take an ojek the 8km across Kaledupa before you can continue on to Hoga. It is better to get on a boat in Wanci which is terminating in Kaledupa. This should go direct to the correct (East) side, but check first. You want a town called Ambeua.

As you approach the jetty at J2, you will probably see guys calling out ‘Hoga, Hoga’. Don’t think that they are offering you a boat direct to Hoga. Those don’t exist. You are just being put on a boat that goes to the East (and not the West) coast of Kaledupa. You will have to figure out the Hoga part later on.

Alternative jetty names: The favourite name for this jetty (J2) is “Mola jetty” (=Pelabuhan Mola). I have also seen it called Pelabuhan Kaledupa (which is fair-enough, as boats to Kaledupa leave from here, although this seems to be an uncommonly used name). If you have to ask for directions to the jetty, it is probably best to state your final island destination (Tomia, Hoga, etc) to make sure you get sent to the right jetty.

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Pangulubelo Jetty (J3)

The next jetty to the North (J3) is a massive, long beastie that takes you out to water deep-enough for the massive ferries that go to Bau Bau and Ambon. I guess that if you are leaving from here, then you probably arrived here too, so there’s not much new to say about it. This jetty is called Pelabuhan Pangulubelo, (but there aren’t any signs up to indicate the fact). There’s a mini-roundabout with a distinctive (lighthouse) clocktower-sculpture, at S3 on the map. If you are arriving here for the first time, turn left for most of the accommodation options.

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You probably don’t need to think about the other jetties. There are a multitude of small local ones up the coast, like this one near the football field (G5), which takes people to nearby Kapota Island.

But, just for completeness – there are two big jetties at the Northern end of ‘Wanci’ town – Fairi Jetty (J4) and La Selimu Jetty (aka Wanci Harbour) (J5).

257_Wanci-Town-J5_Smaller-boats-to-Bau-Bau_P8210003_P1010016.jpg

These two are right next to each other. Apparently, one of them (probably J5) has mid-sized boats to Bau Bau and Kendari, although I’m not sure why you would choose these in preference to the big boats down at Pangulubelo (J3).

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Jetty-name hell:
I hope that was clear. The information I started from was a real tangle. I suggest you skip the next paragraph unless you are particularly trying to correlate what I’ve said with what is written in your travel book.

The famous travel book says that Public Speedboats leave from J2 (rather than J1). I’m pretty certain that this is not the case.
The famous travel book sorta says that Public Speedboats go direct to Hoga. This is not the case.
The famous travel book sorta says that boats to Kaledupa go from a different jetty from the other boats to the Wakatobi islands. This is not the case.
The famous travel book says ‘boats to Kaledupa leave from Mola Utara (1km North of the main harbour)’. It isn’t specified where ‘the main harbour’ is, but the most likely contender is J3. Boats to Kaledupa leave from J2, which is South from there, not North, and it isn’t called Mola Utara.
Mola is the name of the Bajo (sea-gypsy) village. Jetty J2 is best called ‘Mola Jetty’ (=”Mola Pelabuhan”, in Indonesian). Mola jetty is located in an area of Wanci called Mola Utara (North Mola), but Mola Utara is not the name of the jetty. If you ask for Mola Utara Jetty, you will likely be directed to any other jetty that happens to be North of Mola (probably J3). Confusion reigns.

The solution is never to use the phrase ‘Mola Utara’: Use these names:
J1 is Jambal,
J2 is Mola,
J3 is Pangulubelo.
Pelabuhan is jetty or port.

One last ‘boaty’ thing – I hear you can charter a private speedboat from Wanci to Hoga for about 500 000 IDR. I have no idea how you go about doing this. Ask at your expensive hotel, I guess. (edit: Graham has kindly confirmed the price and made some other updates in the comments at the bottom of the page.  He booked his speedboat through Budi (see two paragraphs down from here).

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Wanci Areas of interest

I saw a lot of untouched forest scenery around Wanci Island but I didn’t spend too much time investigating designated tourist sites. I think that there is a viewpoint, some fort ruins and some modest waterfalls. There are a couple of tourist brochures/posters here to tell you what’s out there. 1 2

The brochure mentions a tourist information office at Lalan La Ruku. I didn’t find it and there is no reply from their email address. A good source of local information is Budi (pronounced ‘Boodee’) – a local fella who runs ‘Galaxy Rental’ – a shop that sells cellphones/simcards and rents-out cars and motorbikes. Budi speaks English well and is very friendly and helpful. Buy a phone top-up or rent a motorbike and he will tell you everything you could ever want to know about Wakatobi. Galaxy Rental is at G2 on the map, or call him on +62 853 9998 2999 / 0853 9998 2999.

G5 is the town open-space, just across from the government offices – there is a volleyball court and a parched football field there. In early August the schoolkids are always there, learning military marching in preparation for the Independence-day parade on the 17th.

While you are in the area, you can get a close-up view of the reef fish you have been hoping to see. There is a scrappy, improvised ‘village pond’ at G3. From the Southern edge of the football field, head West along a track towards the sea; and the ‘pond’ is on the left. They don’t look very happy, but you can see Red Tooth Triggerfish; Blackpatch Triggerfish; Orangespined Unicornfish being fed their natural diet of deep-fried corn-chips by the local kids.

The area near the football field is a good place for eats, with restaurants to the West and South of it. I have marked the places where I ate as “F” on the map. It can be difficult to find open restaurants in the daytime. The one near to the Jetty at J3 is usually open. There are plenty of options in the evening time.

Also, check out the morning markets at M1 and M2, and the night market at M3.

Wanci town has several banks with ATMs. The other islands won’t have ATMs. It is still preferable to bring lots of cash with you as the ATMs may dispense only limited amounts. I hear that exchange-rates for foreign currency are poor in Wanci, compared with, say, Kendari. Kevin, in the comments below, notes that the ATMs are BNI and BRI banks.

Wanci Island has several hospitals and a university. There is good 3G phone/internet reception (on Simpati) on most of the island.

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Wanci Diving / Dive shops

I didn’t try diving at Wanci, but it seems there are several dive shops in town. This map is from Mawadah Dive Centre (G1) and shows dive sites all along West Wanci and along the North Coast of nearby Kapota Island.
G1 – Mawadah Dive Centre +62 821 96095175 MawadahDiveCentre@gmail.com

The Patuno resort website has a similar map and a description of some dive sites: wakatobipatunoresort.com/The-Dive-Sites.php

Also there are descriptions of Waha town /area dive sites in the text above (do a text search for “Wanci Area 3”).

There are a few more Wanci dive shops listed in the brochure.

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By the way – confusingly, Wanci town is not actually Wanci town….

Eh?

Well, the area where I listed all the restaurants, hotels and jetties, etc. is actually in a district called Mandati 2. The place that is, technically, Wanci town is an unremarkable residential area, 2km North East of there.

While we’re on the subject – the more Southerly stretch of the map is in yet another district called Mandati 1.

These distinctions are mostly irrelevant, but it might make a difference if you are asking a local person for directions to Wanci when you actually are trying to get to Mandati 2.

 

Other stuff about Wanci:

Alternative maps: 1 2 3

Blogs: 1
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C: Kaledupa Island / Pulau Kaledupa / Island 2

Kaledupa Island is large and remote – it is mainly used by travellers as a (required) stop on the way to popular Hoga Island.

300_Kaledupa-Map-jpg.jpg
All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions.

Link to “all archipelago” map

Apparently, there are a few local homestays on Kaledupa, but otherwise no tourist infrastructure. The tourist brochure mentions a “Wisma Madya Siru” in Kaledupa, but I don’t know where it is located. It seems that Opwall have some operations in Ambeua town on the East coast – that might be a good place to start looking for accommodation.

edit: In the comments at the bottom pf the page, Kevin gives some details about three losmen (guesthouses) he found in Ambeua.

A dive guide on Hoga told me that the snorkelling at Kaledupa was nothing special and that the underwater visibility there was poor. But, then, he would, wouldn’t he?!

Diving liveaboard boats visit a dive-site they call ’Kaledupa Karang’ (‘Kaledupa coral reef’), but that seems to be an underwater atoll, 30km to the South West.

I can’t shed much light on Kaledupa as I didn’t check it out much.

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Kaledupa (/Hoga) Transport

If you are going to Hoga from Kaledupa, you will have to use a jetty on Kaledupa’s East coast.

If you are arriving in Kaledupa from Tomia; or if you came from Wanci on the Wanci-Tomia ferry – you will arrive on Kaledupa’s West coast (at 1) and you will have to get across to the other side of the island (3) before you can find a boat to Hoga.

Here’s the shuttle-boat from the Tomia ferry to the jetty on West Kaledupa (10 000 IDR):
320_Kaledupa-01a_Jetty1-shuttle_P8140001_P1018523.jpg

I came to Kaledupa from Tomia, so I arrived on the ‘wrong’ coast for getting to Hoga. When I arrived at Kaledupa jetty 1, no ojek ever showed-up, so a local family co-opted a nearby 12 year old to take me to the East side on his motorbike. He wasn’t happy carrying me and my backpack, so I took the driving duties. The journey is longer than I expected (about 8 km) and the road surface is pretty bad. I don’t know what the normal price for an ojek is, but the kid only stopped frowning when I reached 20 000 IDR.

Getting to Hoga:
There aren’t regular boats from Kaledupa to Hoga. You will just have to try your luck. I waited ages on the jetty at Ambeua (3 on the map) for something to turn-up. In the end, I had to pay some guys taking building supplies across to let me join their boat. I’m sure that 50 000 IDR is a bad price for a seat in a shared boat, but wotcha gonna do?

I imagine that Hoga’s mid-range resorts will lay-on a boat for their pre-booked guests.

If you are a hardcore traveller (and on a ferry that goes to the East coast of Kaledupa), apparently you can ask the ferry to drop you off at Buranga (map point 5) or the Bajo village (at 4). Here, you might find better prices for the hop-over to Hoga than at the default jetty at Ambeua (3), which most tourists use. Good luck with that.

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When I made the return journey Hoga-Kaledupa-Wanci, the Kaledupa-Wanci ferry left from Ambeua (3) at 05:30 am. Yes – 05:30 am. (I guess that there must be later boats, as well). The floor of the ferry (covered with a bamboo mat) was the only seating option. The fare Kaledupa-Wanci was 50 000 IDR.

I also had to pay 50 000 IDR for a private boat Hoga-Kaledupa.

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Kaledupa areas of interest

Here’s a snap of a Bajo village at 2.
330_Kaledupa-02_Western-Bajo-village_P8140012_P1018537.jpg
Apparently, there is another one at 4.

Near the village of Sombano (in the North East of the island) there is apparently a salt water lake containing oodles of red shrimps: Blog entry.

Some more links about Kaledupa: 1(!) 2

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D: Hoga Island / Pulau Hoga

Hoga is the most common destination for mid-rangers and backpackers. It has a beautiful, long, sandy beach and a few resorts and ‘homestays’ – making it one of the few places where you can roll out of bed and onto the beach. About 150m off the beach, there is a drop-off with good fish-life and some areas of good soft-coral. The hard-coral is almost all dead.

There is a research field-station on Hoga and from May-September the island is over-run with up-to 200 European university students from the Operation Wallacea (Opwall) station. Well, people say, May-September but, I arrived on August 15th and all the students had left a couple of days earlier. August 17th is a National Holiday in Indonesia, so I assume that the students are always cleared-off before the holiday, so the staff can go home for a well-earned rest.

There is a beautiful, long beach all the way down the West side of Hoga. This is where your main focus is – all the accommodation is here and there is a reef running all along it. It is the only area that you can realistically access for snorkelling, as there are no paths on the island.

The snorkelling is a mixed-bag. The hard-corals on the main drop-off were 90% dead, which I found very disappointing. However, the soft-corals and sponges are good. They kindly provide the occasional bright patch on the drop-off, but the main highlight is a few gorgeous soft-coral gardens on the reef-edge, just before the drop-off. Fauna is good and diverse – lots of fish species, often present in good numbers.

When I visited, the August winds blowing in from the South did nothing for the underwater visibility, which ranged from 4m-7m.

The water was pretty cold. For the first time ever, I rented a wetsuit for snorkelling.

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You can see from satellite pictures that there is a wide expanse of sandy shallows surrounding the island. This is typically 50-150m wide. You have to get yourself across this before you reach the snorkelling spots. This is easy to do at the South end of the beach, where there is a long jetty. At other points, you have to don strong shoes and try not to injure the grass-dwelling wildlife (or yourself) as you wade out to the reef.

405_Hoga_Main-Map.jpg
All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions.
Map references are from the text below. Capital letters are landmarks. Numbers (sometimes followed by lowercase letters) are, err, seamarks.

Link to “all archipelago” map

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Areas covered:
I snorkelled all the areas marked in burgundy on the map. Unless you have a boat, these are all that you need to know.

I had hoped to swim round the whole island but: (1) it is 12km around the island and 20km at the reef-edge; (2) there are no walking tracks to let you break the journey up; (3) in the August winds, the surf breaking on the North and East coasts made it impossible to access  the reef on half of the island.

There was usually a mild current running South to North along the main (beachy) West coast, but it wasn’t an issue. I have read that Opwall don’t let their students snorkel without shore-cover, so presumably there are some potential risks with currents.

Navigational beacon:
This is a long article. If you are only interested in the pretty, easy-to-reach places, scroll down to “Hoga Area 5”, below. Otherwise, we are going to start in the South East corner of the island.

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Hoga Area 1 – South East corner to the Lighthouse

Area 1 is for hardcore-types only. It is difficult to reach and not very beautiful when you get there. That said, I did find some cool species there that I didn’t see anywhere else on the island.

Starting from the Opwall site, you can walk East along the coast, past all the huts (I and H on the map) and a couple of small beaches (Mushroom Bay (G); Bounty Bay (F)). When the huts and the track finish, roll-up your trousers and (at low-tides) paddle around a rocky headland to reach the next bay. This bay (D on the map) has a long, deserted, picture-perfect beach.
023_General_Hoga-Beach_P8170108_P1018631.JPG
Sweet.

At the Eastern end of that beach, wade around another headland and you get to another (shorter), deserted beach (C). There are a few cool-looking rocky islets in the sea to your right.
422_Hoga-01a_Little-Rock_P8170112_P1018635.jpg

Walk to the end of that beach then wade out to the tip of the headland and you will be where I was when I turned to the right and headed out to sea (‘B’ on the map).

(Actually, it is possible to continue another 1.5km to the actual South East corner of the island (A), but the tide wasn’t completely out and I was all-done with wading by that stage.)

Note that you probably can’t enter the water earlier than point B, as the whole of those two big bays are used for seaweed farming. Farmers spear pairs of sharpened tree branches into the seabed 50 metres apart and string nylon cord between them. The seaweed grows around the cord.
423_Hoga-01a_Seaweed-farming_P8170120_P1018643.jpg

If you wanted to get to the reef earlier (=further West) than point B, you will need to swim under a thousand of these weedy cords.

Btw, they are farming seaweed because extracts from it are used in the food industry as additives to things such as ice-cream.

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Hoga Area 1a – From the coast at B out to the drop-off

As is often the case in Wakatobi, there is a long swim over grassy bottom before you get to the reef.
424_Hoga-01a_Seagrass_P8170116_P1018639.jpg
The reef is pretty far-out at this point. About 800m far, infact.

Occasionally, there is an isolated coral-head housing some interesting life:
425_Hoga-01a_Lionfish_P8170119_P1018642.jpg
..but mostly it is just boring seagrass, a metre deep.

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Hoga Area 1b – The far-South reef to ‘Seaweed cottage’

On reaching the reef, first impressions weren’t encouraging.
428_Hoga-01b_Skanky_P8170126_P1018649.jpg

Generally, the reef was in poor condition at this end.

There were some interesting/unusual fish to see here, though. This Semi-circle Angelfish was the only one that I saw in my two weeks in Wakatobi.
430_Hoga-01b_Semicircle-Angelfish_P8170132_P1018655.jpg
This one is a late-stage juvenile. The juvis have very pronounced semi-circle markings and the adults have none at all. (Library pictures: juvi, adult.)

Your opinion of Hoga’s snorkelling might depend on whether you are a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty kind of a person. Check out these pictures from Area 1b. Are you looking at the interesting/unusual fish species or at the ugly settings that they are in? (Mouseover the pictures for species names).
431_Hoga-01b_Eclipse-Butterflyfish_P8150007_P1018531.jpg 432_Hoga-01b_Humphead-Wrasse-AKA-Napoleonfish-Juvenile_P8150014_P1018541.jpg 433_Hoga-01b_Oriental-Sweetlips_P8150022_P1018550.jpg 434_Hoga-01b_Regal-Angelfish_P8150023_P1018552.jpg 435_Hoga-01b_Yellowmask-Angelfish_P8150025_P1018555.jpg 436_Hoga-01b_Six-Banded-angelfish_P8150189_P1018600.jpg

I only saw one Yellowmask Angelfish in Hoga and just two Napoleonfish.

Also in Area 1b were lots of scaredy-cat Sting-rays, flying out of the reef-shallows towards the safety of the deep water. They were too fast for my camera.

Although this area was mainly comprised of dead hard-corals, it did have the occasional attractive spot:
438_Hoga-01b_Coral_P8170137_P1018660.jpg 439_Hoga-01b_Coral_P8170138_P1018661.jpg 440_Hoga-01b_Coral_P8170144_P1018667.jpg 441_Hoga-01b_Coral_P8170143_P1018666.jpg

Further North and a ways out from the reef, was this little floating hut. Presumably, it has something to do with the seaweed farmers.
442_Hoga-01b_Seaweed-cottage_P8170147_P1018670.jpg
Check out that toilet!
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The next 300 meters continued with dead hard-coral and the occasional patch of colourful soft-coral.

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Hoga Area 1c – The Eastern half of the homestays/huts

Continuing West, the reef-edge gets closer to the island. You can see the Opwall huts from the reef. Drawing level with the Eastern-most huts (map point H) (or Bounty Bay (point F)), the condition of the coral improved a little.

There were also lots of my favourite Angelfishes to be found here – the Bicolor and the Keyhole:
445_Hoga-01c_Bicolour-Angelfish_P8150018_P1018546.jpg 446_Hoga-01c_Bicolour-Angelfish_P8150048_P1018579.jpg 447_Hoga-01c_Keyhole-Angelfish_P8150038_P1018569.jpg
These are shy and relatively uncommon species. It was nice to see them popping-up regularly.

It is possible to access Area 1c by starting from the beach at F. It is very shallow here, so try to go at high tide to minimise damage to you and the environment as you make your way across the grassy flats to the reef.

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Hoga Area 1d – Midway huts to the Lighthouse

Passing the midway point of the huts on the shoreline, the coral condition picked up a bit:
449_Hoga-01c_Corals_P8170164_P1018687.jpg 450_Hoga-01c_Corals_P8170157_P1018680.jpg 451_Hoga-01c_Corals_P8170153_P1018676.jpg 452_Hoga-01c_Corals_P8170154_P1018677.jpg

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456_Hoga-01d_Fishmix_P8150020_P1018548.jpg
Actually, I think that this shot is quite representative of the ‘typical’ snorkelling at Hoga. The hard-corals look pretty skanky, but if you look closely you can see seven different species of reef-fish in there.
Yelllowtail (aka Behn’s) Damselfish; Black-lip Butterflyfish ; Phantom Bannerfish, Maouri Wrasse, Sergeant Major Damselfish, Lined Bristletooth Surgeonfish, Parrotfish).

The juvenile and adult versions of the Black Snapper look very different from each other. Here they are posing together for a family picture.
457_Hoga-01d_Black-Snapper_P8150033_P1018564.jpg
(The adults are in the murky distance, those are a couple of Bannerfish at the lower edges).

This Cleaner Wrasse is taking a break from his job (cleaning out the nooks and crannies of other fish) to pose for a shot in front of a sea fan:
458_Hoga-01d_Cleaner-Wrasse_P8150054_P1018586.jpg

Banded Sea-krait:
459_Hoga-01d_Banded-Sea-krait_P8150051_P1018582.jpg

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Hoga Area 2 – Lighthouse to the jetty.

Area 2 wouldn’t be your first choice for making a special visit, but if you wanted, you could swim to this area by turning left off the jetty. Here, we are approaching it from the opposite direction (South).

Near the lighthouse, the steep drop-off was mostly dead hard-coral again.
461_Hoga-02a_Lighthouse-Jetty_P8150056_P1018588.jpg 462_Hoga-02a_Dropoff_P8150080_P1018612.jpg

…but the shallow area at the reeftop had some patches of nice soft-coral.
465_Hoga-02a_Soft-Coral_P8150058_P1018590.jpg 466_Hoga-02a_Soft-Coral_P8150069_P1018601.jpg
Those two yellow and white fellas in the distance are the, quite uncommon, Teardrop Butterflyfish (Chaetodon-unimaculatus).

There were one or two dramatic looking sea-fans:
469_Hoga-02a_Fan_P8150065_P1018597.jpg 470_Hoga-02a_Fan_P8150061_P1018593 patches of good coral on the reeftop.jpg

..an unusual-looking sponge:
472_Hoga-02a_Sponge_P8150079_P1018611.jpg
(Those are Convict Blennies hanging around the base).

..and a patch of Scleronephthya species soft-coral:
473_Hoga-02a_Scleronephthya-species-soft-coral_P8150064_P1018596.jpg
There weren’t many of this species around.

Some notable schooling fish in the area included these Pearly Monocle Bream and Striped Large-eye Bream:
476_Hoga-02a_Pearly-Monocle-Bream_P8150066_P1018598.jpg 477_Hoga-02a_Striped-Large-Eye-Bream_P8150072_P1018604.jpg

About halfway between the lighthouse and the jetty, at area 2b, the coral condition picked up:
481_Hoga-02b_Corals_P8150094_P1018626.jpg 482_Hoga-02b_Coral_P8150092_P1018624.jpg 483_Hoga-02b_Coral_P8150095_P1018627.jpg 484_Hoga-02b_Soft-Coral_P8150097_P1018629.jpg

And there were some interesting fish on view:
486_Hoga-02b_Cigar-Wrasse_P8150100_P1018632.jpg
This green wormy-looking thing is a juvenile Cigar Wrasse. These are quite uncommon and I only saw two of them in Wakatobi.

These schooling Longspot Snapper are joined by some Damselfish and an Orange-Spined Unicornfish:
487_Hoga-02b_Longspot-Snapper_P8150085_P1018617.jpg

Centre-frame here are a couple of (Chinese) Trumpetfish.
490_Hoga-02b_Trumpetfish_P8150102_P1018634.jpg
Around the edges, we have a Big-Scale Squirrelfish, two Pink-Tail Triggerfish and some Sergeant Major Damsels.

Coming into the shallows, there were a few of what seemed to be an albino version of the common Bridled Monocle Bream/Spinecheek. This is a new one to me:
495_Hoga-02b_Three-Lined-Monocle-Bream_P8150106_P1018640.jpg
Turns out it is a Three Lined Monocle Bream (Scolopsis trilineatus).

Saddle Butterflyfish are always attractive and it is nice to find one in such shallow water.